Thomas on champion form on eve of Tour de France

Geraint Thomas (Getty Images)
Geraint Thomas (Getty Images)

Brussels - The one-liners flew thick and fast as the affable Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas stole the show when Dave Brailsford's Team Ineos faced the press in Brussels on Friday.

Thomas won the 2018 Tour with Team Sky, and will now try and retain his personal title under the sponsorship of Jim Ratcliffe's petro-chemicals giant Ineos.

Thomas' jocular mood was in contrast to the serious approach of British cycling's mastermind of the marginal-gains theory -- team principal Brailsford.

Asked what difference four-time winner Chris Froome's absence through injury meant ahead of the start of the Tour in the Belgian capital on Saturday, Thomas quipped: "Instead of the there being four of us dominating the final kilometre, there will be just the three of us."

Despite a visible scar curving around his right eyebrow from a fall at the Tour de Suisse in June, Thomas looked fit and relaxed.

"I didn't miss too much training," the Welshman insisted.

"I'm glad to be here and racing again, I've had enough of all the off-bike stuff," he said, referring to the media circuit he embarked on following his highly popular win in 2018.

It was suggested to Thomas that this might be a wide-open, eventful Tour de France without Froome in the running.

"I hope not," the 33-year-old shot back. "Hopefully one of us will win it and it will be really uneventful."

Another win is the target for Thomas, but he also suggested he would be happy if his co-leader, Colombian prodigy Egan Bernal, took the glory.

"Some people say I'm a one-hit wonder. If that's the case, well that was a very nice hit to have," he said.

- Stark contrast -

Brailsford opened the meeting with around 150 reporters by thanking the new sponsor Ineos and promising them a victory.

"It would be remiss of me not to thank Jim Ratcliffe, and as this is our first Tour de France as Ineos, we'd like to pay him back," said Brailsford.

But he then reddened and twisted in his seat when reminded that a year ago he had adopted an anti-plastics mantle with the slogan 'Ocean Rescue', and was asked if he had regrets working with a plastics producer.

"No regrets at all," he said. "We are still promoting the reduction of single-use plastics."

Brailsford quickly moved on to talk about his co-leadership strategy.

"Geraint has the poise, the knowledge and the experience," he said.

"While Egan (Bernal) also has poise, he's also had a terrific season. You can talk about physical age and mental age but when you are ready, you are ready, and boy is he ready."

But he was keen to hammer home a point publicly to his two captains.

"If they realise that one of them winning is good for both of them, then it increases the chances for both of them. It's a question of trust."

Thomas provided another round of laughter when aked how well he knew his 22-year-old teammate.

"We raced the Tour together last year, and that worked out quite well," he said.

For his part, Bernal seemed a little lost in a fast-moving English environment but did not seem flustered.

"I'm relaxed, I've got great teammates, there's no pressure because I'm always surrounded and the guys will take me where we need to get to," he said.

Where he and Thomas need to get to is the Alps, for a final three days of climbing where the 2019 Tour will be decided in three weeks' time.

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