Just two days into the Tour de France, Geraint Thomas is already putting daylight between himself and some of the riders dreaming of dethroning the reigning champion.
Thomas, who claimed his first Tour win last summer, on Sunday answered questions surrounding his form and fitness in a dominant fashion in a short team time trial around the streets of Brussels.
His Team Ineos did not win the stage, but the 33-year-old Welshman gained precious seconds on his rivals, including French duo Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, former Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali, climber Nairo Quintana, Adam Yates and Jakob Fuglsang.
Thomas arrived at the Tour on the back of a rather mundane season and with no victory to his name. Even worse, he crashed out of his final preparation race last month and endured another setback, though minor, when he was caught in a pileup near the finish of Saturday’s opening stage.
With the No. 1 bib on his back, Thomas, a former track specialist, showed no signs of weakness following his spill. He took solid turns at the front and led his teammates across the finish line close to the Atomium, the iconic Brussels monument built for the 1958 World Fair.
The only team riding faster than Ineos was Dutch outfit Team Jumbo-Visma, who covered the 27.6km in 28 minutes, 58 seconds, keeping the maillot jaune on Mike Teunissen’s shoulders.
They were 20 seconds faster than Thomas and his teammates, with Deceuninck Quick-Step completing the podium, 21 seconds off the pace.
“Looking at GC [general classification], it’s a good performance,” Thomas said. “It was a positive day for sure.”
Teunissen’s teammate Steven Kruijswijk is now the best placed overall contender, who sits third overall with a 20 second lead over Thomas and Egan Bernal, the coleader at Ineos this summer in the absence of four-time champion Chris Froome.
Before the race left Belgium, Thomas and Bernal gained 12 seconds on Pinot, 16 seconds on Nibali, and 21 seconds on Yates and Fuglsang. They opened more significant gaps on Quintana (45 seconds) and Bardet, the day’s big loser who conceded 59 seconds.
After rolling down first from the start ramp near Brussels’ Royal Palace, Ineos riders stayed in the lead for two hours until Jumbo-Visma, the last team to set off, bettered their time in an impressive performance.
Putting on a well-choreographed display, the Dutch team’s riders covered the route at an average speed of 57.2kph, close to the record of 57.8kph set by Orica-GreenEdge when they won the 2013 team time trial on a similar distance.
“We went hard from the start. We heard we were the fastest... We were flying,” Teunissen said. “Yesterday it was a dream come true and it’s the case today again.”
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