MILAN (VN) — Geraint Thomas will prepare to lead Sky alongside Chris Froome in the 2016 Tour de France and will sacrifice the classics to do so, says his team.
The 29-year-old Brit enjoyed his best season yet in 2015. He helped Froome win the Tour title in July, but also was sitting fourth in the general classification until the final two mountain stages.
“Going into this next season, we’ll continue to pursue [stage racing],” team principal David Brailsford told VeloNews.
“Instead of trying to prepare for the stage races after the classics, we’ll think about that sooner. I’m sure he’ll still ride Flanders and a couple of the Ardennes, it’s not as if he won’t ride any one-day races at all. However, in terms of his conditioning and how he’s going to prepare his season, it’ll be geared around getting the right credentials to be able to climb with the best in the world and, of course, time trial with the best in the world.”
Thomas won E3 Harelbeke and placed third in Gent-Wevelgem this spring. Last year, he finished eighth in the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and seventh in Paris-Roubaix.
The flavor next spring will be one of stage races instead of Flemish cobbled classics, however. Thomas may parachute in for the Ronde and one or two Ardennes classics, but that could be all.
Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe, and new hire Michal Kwiatkowski could lead the team through the cobbled classics. Kwiatkowski, who won the Amstel Gold Race this spring, would also feature in the Ardennes classics.
Brailsford wants to further develop the Welshman Thomas so that he can become Great Britain’s third ever Tour winner after Bradley Wiggins and Froome.
“Geraint’s ridden for Bradley, Chris a lot. He’s ridden so well,” Brailsford continued. “Quite often, we use him as our road captain, he runs the team on the road. He led the Tour de Suisse for us this year, he rode Paris-Nice in the past as co-leader, he’s done well in the Tour Down Under. I think that the leadership role is the step up for him, it’s a bigger step, but it needs to be done.”
Thomas this year won the Volta ao Algarve and placed second in the Tour de Suisse. At the Tour, he sat fourth overall after 18 stages. He slid down the classification to 15th overall in the final two mountain days ahead of the Paris finish.
“G’s got a really bright future ahead of him in terms of grand tour riding,” Froome said at the Tour. “I don’t think it’s going to be long until we see him take leadership for himself in a grand tour. He definitely deserves it.”
Without a classics focus, Thomas will be able to prepare to lead the Sky team with Froome. Should anything happen to Froome, Brailsford said Thomas could lead the team.
“Look at the situation as things stand. We are not in November yet, but in general terms, Chris would like to go back and compete in the Tour,” Brailsford continued.
“Geraint would like to get there, and has earned the right to be a protected rider there. If all goes to plan, I don’t see why that couldn’t happen. That’s as much as we can call at the minute.”