Dave Brailsford, the Ineos director of sport, has admitted that Geraint Thomas proved doubters inside the team wrong with his resurgent performance at the Tour de France.
The Welsh rider entered the race having been named as one of three co-leaders for the Ineos Grenadiers, but quickly established himself as the team's best general classification hope after winning the Tour de Suisse.
The 2018 winner eventually finished in third, some way back from Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar, but firmly established as the best of the rest.
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Thomas revealed during the final week of the Tour that he felt that "not many other people" within his team still believed he was capable of challenging for a podium place, suggesting that Ineos were looking to a younger generation.
Brailsford, who has worked closely with Thomas throughout the Welshman's career on both the track and the road, admitted that the 36-year-old had proved the team management wrong.
Thomas ‘proved a few doubters wrong’ with Tour podium
“Well, if I was in his shoes I’d have a wry smile on my face, let’s face it," Brailsford said of Thomas' performance.
“He has brought his years and years of experience to this and that’s what got him his third place in this year’s Tour.
"He’s been brilliant, we have seen the best version of himself. Everybody feels it’s a very satisfying performance for him and the team.”
Ineos had ear-marked Egan Bernal, the 2019 winner, as their team leader for this year's Tour until the Colombian's heavy crash in training in January.
The team had enjoyed a strong classics season in the spring, building around a new generation of riders led by Tom Pidcock, who produced a fine debut performance at the Tour.
The 22-year-old took victory on Alpe d'Huez on Stage 12 and showed consistently well across varied terrain throughout the race, and Brailsford believes Thomas' mentoring role is partly to thank for Pidcock's success.
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"We sat down and agreed that [Geraint Thomas would] be a role model to the young lads, a perfect team-mate, and I think that slightly relaxed approach worked," Brailsford explained.
“Basically, he hasn’t put a foot wrong all season. He’s a natural mentor. In the end, top young riders watch the older top riders and for Tom [Pidcock] and the others to watch Geraint and see how he handles himself, well, they will take a huge amount from that.”
Pidcock's accomplished first showing has prompted speculation that the young British rider may yet develop into a rider capable of rivalling Vingegaard and Pogacar for Grand Tour success.
The multi-talented Pidcock became cyclo-cross world champion in January having secured mountain bike cross-country gold at Tokyo 2020 last summer, and is also a former winner of the "Baby Giro".
Brailsford fears that any attempt to curb the 22-year-old's natural style on the bike to groom him into a three-week stage race contender could be detrimental, but feels that Pidcock does have what it takes to eventually contend at the Tour.
“His win on Alpe d’Huez sums him up,” Brailsford assessed of Pidcock's Tour. “He was respected for the win but also loved for the manner of the win.
“I think if you clip his wings you’re taking away from the personality and the bike rider that he is. The mistake would be to drop him into a very sterile approach because I’m not sure that’s right for him.
“He needs the opportunity to be himself. I think he can set his sights on the Tour in the future, but to get there, he has to be true to his authentic self and his authentic self is a brilliant bike rider across all terrains.”
Brailsford is currently in Portugal with OGC Nice, also owned by Ineos founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe, as the French club prepare for the new Ligue 1 season.
The former British Cycling boss has also visited Newcastle United's pre-season training camp while in Lisbon.
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