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Geraint Thomas foils Tour De France challengers with impressive push up to fifth

Mirror logo Mirror 11/07/2019 Mike Walters

Geraint Thomas made a massive statement of lung power to show he’s still the boss on the Tour de France’s Dai of reckoning.

Against most conventional wisdom, defending champion Thomas climbed to fifth in the general classification, above Team Ineos sidekick Egan Bernal, with a blistering ride on the freakish slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles.

And after a memorable ride, which massively improves his chances of back-to-back Yellow Jerseys, Thomas gasped: “I was starting to blow at the end – but it was decent.”

a person wearing sunglasses: Thomas' effort put time into all his main Yellow Jersey rivals and was worthy of applause © Reuters Thomas' effort put time into all his main Yellow Jersey rivals and was worthy of applause

Good old ‘G’ – just when we thought he was running on fumes, he blew away the plumes of doubt. He has turned his five-second deficit on Bernal into a four-second lead, and with next week’s time trial to come his prospects of rolling into Paris sipping champagne again have increased markedly.

Belgium’s Dylan Teuns won the 100-mile stage six from Mulhouse and Italian Giuliano Ciccone took over the leader’s Yellow Jersey, but the real shift in power was Thomas coming fourth and putting time into all his GC rivals.

The Prince of Wheels, short of competitive racing after his crash on last month’s Tour de Suisse , answered his critics in style and said: “I don’t listen to tips, but I felt pretty good and I thought it would be more of a solid day.

Britain's greatest cyclists (Grid)

“It’s never easy here, and I thought the steep climbs weren’t my cup of tea – I was expecting others, maybe (Nairo) Quintana, Egan, (Adam) Yates to jump up there, so it was a decent day in the end.

“It’s one of those climbs where you have to be patient – when Julian Alaphilippe went clear at 800 metres to go, I had the confidence to let him go, ride my own tempo and drive all the way to the line from 350.”

Seven categorised climbs, totallling 13,000ft of uphill slog and culminating in the purgatory of La Planche, were always going to reveal whether Thomas was undercooked like steak tartare or well-done like a prime cut.

a crowd of people in a field: There were twists and turns on the hills and gravel of Thursday's stage © EPA-EFE/REX There were twists and turns on the hills and gravel of Thursday's stage

Throw in pockets of greasy conditions, as light rain made its first appearance of the race, and there was a dangerous cocktail of elements to conspire against him. And then there was almost a mile of gravel track, at a forbidding gradient of 24 per cent, tacked onto the course for a finale bordering on cruelty.

Thomas had been warned by Mitchelton-Scott sporting director Matt White there would be nowhere to hide on La Planche – and he didn’t go missing. It was a ride which sent out an explicit message to both his Team Ineos chums and the peloton as a whole.

And the message read: I’m still in charge.

Thomas’s selfless lieutenant, Michal Kwiatkowski, said: “Today was a checkpoint for the GC riders and we went through it. It’s not easy to finish strong on such a steep gradient, but ‘G’ did it and he seems to be in pretty good form.”

Friday's seventh stage, the longest of the race at 147 miles from Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saone, is pan-flat and effectively a rest day for the GC contenders.

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