Dave Brailsford, the Ineos director of sport, has lauded the Tour de France performances of Geraint Thomas and the debutant Tom Pidcock – in which the veteran Welshman finished third and the 22-year-old took a spectacular stage win at Alpe d’Huez – while also admitting the 36-year-old proved team management wrong.
Brailsford said Thomas’s performance was “to be admired greatly”, adding: “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.”
But Brailsford also accepted that Thomas’s enduring ambition might have been underestimated by team management. Asked if Thomas had proven a point to those within Ineos who had doubted him, Brailsford said: “Well, if I was in his shoes I’d have a wry smile on my face, let’s face it. We sat down and agreed that he’d be a role model to the young lads, a perfect teammate, and I think that slightly relaxed approach worked.
“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 finished 17th overall in his first tour, but also took a remarkable stage win on the coveted climb of Alpe d’Huez, a success that allied his fearless descending skills with an inspired climbing display. “His win on Alpe d’Huez sums him up,” Brailsford said. “He was respected for the win but also loved for the manner of the win.”
Asked if Pidcock could be developed into a Tour contender in the coming years, Brailsford was more guarded. “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, who is travelling in Portugal on behalf of OGC Nice as they complete their preseason buildup, was not present on the Tour for the first time in a decade, but remains in situ as Ineos Grenadiers team principal and was in daily contact with the team manager, Rod Ellingworth.
“I’ve got a fantastic working relationship with Rod, the team and the riders,” he said. “Going into this year with the role I have now, it was always a very different year for me and how I allocate my time, but I was in contact with Rod constantly and we know each other inside out. We have spoken pretty much on a daily basis. Every day, the performance team gets together and pulls a report together and I get that every night.”
Twelve months ago Ineos Grenadiers were coming to terms with the dominance of Tadej Pogacar, as he celebrated his second Tour win. Now they have to confront the challenge of the juggernaut that is Jonas Vingegaard’s all-conquering Jumbo‑Visma super-team.
“In cycling, we all always draw these big conclusions, like last year, that Pogacar will be invincible and, like the first week of this year’s race, when everyone thought he’d got it won,” Brailsford said.
“But sport’s not like that. Pogacar isn’t invincible and it [the Tour] hasn’t ended as people predicted. The idea that there’s been two riders going at it [Pogacar and Vingegaard] and nobody else, that everyone else was making up the numbers – I just don’t buy that.
“We always consider somebody invincible and they never are. It happened with [Chris] Froome, [Egan] Bernal, and now Pogacar. We will see how Vingegaard gets on.”