Keep calm and win the Giro d'Italia - Ineos Grenadiers back Geraint Thomas for title
Ineos Grenadiers have won 12 Grand Tours in their history and with Geraint Thomas in the maglia rosa before the decisive mountain stages of this year's Giro d'Italia, the British super team like their chances for overall victory.
Thomas took back the maglia rosa on Monte Bondone on Tuesday, impressing with the way he and Almeida gained 25 seconds on Roglič.
He leads João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) by just 18 seconds, with Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) at 29 seconds, with two big mountain stages and mountain top finishes in the Dolomites to race and then the final decisive mountain time trial to Monte Lussari.
The phrase 'Keep calm and win the Giro d’Italia' isn't written on the inside of the team bus door but it is the team's mantra for the days ahead.
"It's good to have the maglia but the goal is to win the Giro d'Italia," lead directeur sportif Matteo Tosatto told Cyclingnews and the Cycling Podcast, focused on the final objective and keen to boost the morale of his leader and riders.
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"Now the top five on GC is clear, now it's important to stay calm. Tomorrow and Friday are super hard days, then there's the time trial. I've got a lot of confidence in Geraint."
Team manager Rod Ellingworth has known Thomas since he was a talented Junior. He came through the Great Britain under-23 Academy managed by Ellingworth and they have been through the highs and lows of Thomas' long career together.
Ellingworth has been closely involved and present in most of Ineos Grenadiers Grand Tour victories and is a reassuring presence at the team bus without putting everyone under extra pressure.
"Every Grand Tour is a fight to the very end and especially so the Giro and especially this one with the final time trial. What is good about Geriant is that his feet are firmly on the floor, he's not thinking the race is done even though he has the pink jersey," Ellingworth told Cyclingnews.
Thomas will turn 37 during Thursday's stage but appears to have rolled back the years to 2018 when he won the Tour de France.
His performance on Monte Bondone was one of Thomas' best on a long hard climb, yet Ineos Grenadiers are quietly confident he was not at his very limit and can do even better on Thursday and Friday.
"With G it's all about his mental state of mind," Ellingworth explained.
"Some older guys get tired of training and racing and moan about young guys pushing their way into the peloton. Geriant has never complained about that, he just does his own thing and his own race."
Taking on Roglič and Almelda
Tosatto has not directed Thomas at a lot of races but trust has developed between them. Tosatto rode 34 Grand Tours during his long career as a domestique and learnt how to win Grand Tours while riding for Alberto Contador in the final years of his career. He has prepared for this year's race meticulously, as only an Italian racing their own Grand Tour can.
The Ineos Grenadiers team is down to just five riders after Filippo Ganna caught COVID-19, Tao Geoghegan Hart suffered a terrible crash on stage 11 and Pavel Sivakov retired due to his crash injuries. Tosatto is motivating Salvatore Puccio, Ben Swift, Thymen Arensman, Laurens De Plus and especially Thomas by telling them they have the equal of the eight Jumbo-Visma riders and the seven of UAE Team Emirates.
The Italian is convinced that Thomas can repeat his Monte Bondone performance on Thursday and Friday and then defend the maglia rosa in the time trial.
"I'm happy with the GC at the moment but I'd prefer to take time. If G has an opportunity, it's important to take time," he suggested.
"Saturday's time trial is a good stage for Geraint but I think Thursday's and Friday's mountain stages are more important for him. I've got a lot of confidence in the team. When they get off the team bus they only see five bikes but I've told them they each have the strength of three men."
Tosatto prefers to focus on Ineos Grenadiers' race but has been observing Roglič and Almeida closely. He knows the current GC time gaps are not enough to break their resolve.
"For me, Roglič is as dangerous as he was on Tuesday morning before the stage, he only lost 25 seconds on the stage," Tosatto says of the Slovenian.
"Riders don't recover from crashes in two or three days, they often need ten days. He's suffered crashes, maybe felt the rest day or some pressure. Perhaps the weather, too, because it's now after lots of rain. I think Roglič is still in a very good position and can still win the Giro."
The Giro d'Italia was billed as a Thomas-Roglič battle after Remco Evenepoel caught COVID-19 but Almeida has always been on Tosatto's radar.
"I'd expected Almeida to finish on the podium right from the start of the Giro in Pescara," he said of the laid-back but consistent Portuguese rider.
"He's super young but super talented. He's getting better year by year. I like him as a rider and he's super dangerous for the Giro."
Ellingworth is always calm and collected but loves a Grand Tour fight, just like everyone in the team.
"I like how Jumbo-Visma said yesterday that they'd lost a battle but not the war. Okay, the bike race is on. We're ready too," he confirmed.