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Defending champion delighted with performance of Team Ineos to date - but sees Alaphilippe as unknown quantity

Defending champion Geraint Thomas says the next week will be crucial to his title defence as the race heads into the Pyrenees – but is delighted with the performance of Team Ineos in the first 10 days of the race.

Yesterday, the Welshman moved up to second overall, 1 minute 12 seconds behind Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck- Quick Step, with fellow Team Ineos rider Egan Bernal third overall, 4 seconds further back.

The trio were all in the front group as crosswinds blew the race to pieces on yesterday’s Stage 10 from Saint-Flour to Albi, with Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot, EF Education First’s Rigoberto Uran and Jakob Fuglsang of Astana among the overall contenders who lost at least 1 minute 40 seconds to their rivals after missing the split.

Speaking on today’s first rest day of the race, Thomas said: “We feel we’re in a strong position, a combination of everything coming together has helped us get to this point at the first rest day. We’ve made a great start, but we’re fully aware that there’s still plenty of racing left.

“To have gained time on our GC contenders is massive and a really good bonus – but now the really tough stages start. It’s been a great 10 days. It would be better if we were a couple of seconds behind Alaphilippe, but we’re pleased with how we’ve fared so far.”

The current race leader is one of the most exciting riders in the peloton and, in the yellow jersey, was instrumental in forcing that split yesterday.

While the reigning Milan-San Remo champion and two-time Fleche Wallonne winner has brought the panache he shows in one day races to the Tour de France, he is an unknown quantity in terms of his ability to maintain a challenge into the decisive third week, a point highlighted by Thomas.

“We’ll know a lot more about Alaphilippe after the second rest day, but he’s rode a great race so far,” the Team Ineos rider said. “We’ll see how he goes, it’s an unknown for him as well, so it’ll be an interesting second week.”

Thomas, who last year won back-to-back stages in the Alps on his way to securing Team Sky’s sixth victory in seven years – it changed ownership and sponsorship to Team Ineos in May – continued: “We’ve got huge Grand Tour experience in this team, so we won’t allow ourselves to become complacent – we’ll just focus on each stage and give ourselves the best possible chance of winning when we get to Paris. I’m not feeling any extra pressure this year.

 “I’m enjoying the race so far though, it’s been a good opening block of racing for the team and the support we’ve had has made it even more enjoyable.

 “We’ve got a lot of winning experience on this team, the guys know what it takes to get over the winning line at the Tour - that experience is massively important in a race like this. We are always prepared for this race - we have one goal.

“Other teams go for stage wins, but our only goal is to try and win the Tour,” he added.

Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford also said that the race had gone well to date.

“We'll continue to do what we’ve been doing so far,” he said. “To be at this point in the race, second and third overall on GC, is probably the best it could get for us really.

“The way the guys have handled themselves and the way the team have approached the first 10 days of racing will be the way we continue – I’m confident it will continue to work well from here.”

In past editions of the race, Team Sky riders were at times been subject to abuse from spectators including having urine and punches thrown at them, but Brailsford believes the atmosphere at the roadside is different this time around.

 “This feels like one of the most positive Tour de France races since we started, in terms of the support we’ve received,” he explained.

“We’ve had nothing but positive support since the start of this year's race. We love France. We love the Tour. We love the passion – it’s what makes this race so special. We’re all really enjoying it.”

Racing resumes tomorrow with a stage from Albi to Toulouse that should be one for the sprinters – although yesterday showed that anything is possible in this race – before heading into the High Pyrenees on Thursday that sees the peloton tackle the Category 1 climbs of the Col de Peyresourde, and La Horquette d’Ancizan before sweeping down to the finish at Bagneres de Bigorre.

On Friday, Pau provides the start and finish of a 27.2 kilometre time trial that should give Thomas an opportunity to put time into Alaphilippe, ahead of a summit finish on the Tourmalet on Saturday that is likely to be one of the decisive stages of this year’s race.

There’s another summit finish on Sunday at the Prat d’Albis above Foix ahead of the second rest day in Nimes, followed by a couple of transitional stages ahead of three big stages in the Alps that will determine the winner of this year’s race.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.