MENDE, France (Reuters) - Wearing the yellow jersey on the Tour de France is obviously an amazing experience for any rider, but it comes with increasing pressure for Geraint Thomas as he is now in a position to win the greatest race in cycling.
The Welshman, who has been the Tour’s overall leader since stage 11, has to go through protocol — post-stage news conference and mixed zone — and endure the attendant pressure of the occasion as he aims to clinch his maiden grand-tour title.
But Thomas is familiar with the trappings of high-level achievement, having won two Olympic titles on the track with Great Britain.
“When you compare this to getting to the track pursuit Olympic final in London (in 2012) ... I had four years of hard work and you can win by a 10th of a second. That’s pressure,” he told a news conference after finishing the 14th stage safely on Saturday.
“Here it is different. It’s more sustained. Also, the fact that Froomey (Chris Froome) is second overall takes pressure off me.”
Team Sky indeed have two cards to play in Thomas and Froome, who trails by 1:39 overall but has more experience with six grand-tour titles under his belt already.
How Sky will play their cards in the Pyrenees next week could decide the outcome of the race.
Thomas has been insisting Froome was the team leader but the Welshman’s lead and two stage wins in the Alps suggest he might be the stronger rider.
Dutchman Tom Dumoulin lies in third place, 1:50 off the pace, and remains a threat to both the Team Sky riders.
“If we (fight) each other and Dumoulin wins, we’d look pretty stupid,” said Thomas.
“(Being in that position in a three-week race) is a bit of an unknown for me,” said Thomas, who none the less noted that Froome and Dumoulin were also in uncharted territory because they both rode the Giro d’Italia earlier this year.
Froome won the Giro ahead of Dumoulin and he is attempting to become the first rider since 1998 to achieve the Giro-Tour double.
“We’ll handle this as a team,” said Thomas, who knows that Dumoulin, even if he appears to be struggling in some climbs, is a tough nut to crack.
“You don’t know if he is suffering or pacing himself. It takes some balls to do that, especially when you do it alone (without the help of team mates).”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Neville Dalton