Geraint Thomas and the young Colombian Egan Bernal have been confirmed as the joint leaders of Team Ineos for the 106th edition of the Tour de France, which starts in Brussels a week tomorrow.
Thomas, who crashed out of the Tour de Suisse last week but was subsequently given the all-clear, heads to the race as defending champion while four-time winner Chris Froome is out for up to six months after his horrific crash at the Criterium du Dauphiné earlier this month.
Bernal, aged just 22, takes joint leadership in a season in which he has won the overall titles at Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse. He had been due to lead Team Ineos at the Giro d’Italia but a broken collarbone sustained in a training ride shortly beforehand ruled him out of the race.
There is a wealth of experience in the team’s supporting line-up, including several riders who have supported Froome and Thomas in their victories in the French Grand Tour in recent years.
Wout Poels and former road world champion Michal Kwiatkowski will line up alongside Jonathan Castroviejo, Gianni Moscon, Luke Rowe and Dylan van Baarle.
Thomas said: “Winning the Tour de France last year was the highlight of my professional cycling career and racing with the number one on my back is going to be special this year. The memories of 2018 will remain with me forever, but now I’m ready to create more with the team this year.
"It’s no secret my build-up has been affected by the crash at Tour de Suisse, but I’ve had a good block of training since and I feel ready.
“Discussing with the team, we believe it makes sense to go into the race with joint leaders as it gives us more options. Egan and I will work hard for each other and the team over the three weeks of the race.
“We’ve got a really exciting blend of youth and experience in the Team – and it’s a group of riders who I know will be with me every step of the way and know what it takes to win Grand Tours,” he added.
“I can’t wait to pull on the Team Ineos jersey for the first time at the Tour de France in what is the biggest race of the year.”
Bernal, who was a key domestique in support of Froome and Thomas last year, said: “I have really good memories from the Tour last year, It was my first Tour de France and also my first Grand Tour, so it was special.
“We enjoyed a great victory with G and it was something really special to be a part of. Of course, our ambition is to win the race again this year.
“Last year’s experience taught me a lot. As a bike rider, whatever you might think about the Tour from the outside you don’t really know it until you have raced it.
“Now I know what to expect, I can be more relaxed about what lies ahead and even more focused on the racing.
“The most important thing for my development is to enjoy racing over the next three weeks, give my best, and be happy with my performance. I am looking forward to sharing leadership responsibilities with G and doing everything we can together to help Team Ineos win its first Tour.”
Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford commented: “There is always a strong sense of anticipation before any Tour, but this one is that bit more special for us as it’s our first racing as Team Ineos.
“And whilst our preparation hasn’t been straightforward following Chris Froome’s recent crash, we will be at the start line with a really strong team that is hungry to win again.
“After the success of last year, we have decided to come into the race with joint leaders.
“Geraint and Egan are both in great form. They trust each other and we believe that this approach will best suit us as a team by giving us the greatest flexibility on the road and the best possible chance of success.
“Alongside them, we have five of the riders who supported Geraint in his victory last year. They are all supremely talented in their own right as bike riders and also in great form, but their combined strengths will ensure we are strong on both the flat and in the mountains.
“We have also brought Dylan van Baarle into the Team. He was in top condition at the Dauphine and is relishing the opportunity ahead.”
You can read our stage-by-stage preview to the 2019 Tour de France here.
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