Geraint Thomas' mountain to climb as Tour de France gets underway

He has been described as the clear favourite in what promises to be an open edition of the Tour de France - but Geraint Thomas has a long road ahead in his pursuit of bringing the yellow jersey back home to Wales.

His surprise win at the 2018 tour was a historic moment for the Welshman and for cycling in Wales.

Thomas was welcomed home to Wales after winning the yellow jersey last year Credit: PA Images

His impressive control of back-to-back summit finish victories had the nation on the edge of their seats as they witnessed Geraint ride to victory this time last year.

The CEO of Welsh Cycling described him as an "inspiration to riders young and old".

“We have been so proud to see his hard work, effort and commitment through the years culminate in such a rewarding honour. We look forward to continue our work with Geraint to develop initiatives to inspire more and more children into racing”.

Geraint was awarded BBC's Sports Personality of the Year after his TDF victory Credit: PA Images

Geraint posted a photograph to his Instagram page of his infamous 'pre tour' haircut - a ritual he does with his wife before each big race.

  • So what are his chances of doing the double?

Thomas said in January it would be "sad" not to give the tour "100%" after deciding not to take part in the Giro d'Italia.

But he doesn't appear to be putting much pressure on himself. He recently joked he would be happy with an "uneventful" tour as long as a Team Ineos rider is stood on the top step in Paris at the end of the month.

"Hopefully one of us wins and it's really uneventful," Thomas said with a laugh.

The race begins today with the top two favourites on the bookmakers' list in their ranks - Thomas and Colombian sensation Egan Bernal.

Colombian Egan Bernal has been billed as one of the favourites alongside Thomas Credit: PA Images

The defending champion said the desire to get back to France has been building in him now for some time.

"I just love training, riding my bike and being with the guys," the Welshman said. "From November I was just super keen to get back. I'd had enough of everything else off the bike.

"It's just something inside you, you want to push yourself. Last year was a great race, an amazing experience and I'd love to experience that again.

"I don't think I've got anything to prove. Some people have said about maybe being a one-hit wonder, but it's a pretty good hit to have."

Thomas was elevated to the status of Tour favourite after Froome's horror crash at the Criterium du Dauphine, but there is a belief this year's high-altitude route suits Bernal, whose stock rose further with his victory at the Tour de Suisse last month after Thomas crashed out.

Thomas has said he hopes for an Credit: PA Images

At 22 and going into only his second Grand Tour after finishing 15th in last year's Tour, Bernal is short on experience, but Ineos team principal Sir Dave Brailsford has no doubts over his credentials.

"I think you have a physical age and a mental age, but when you're ready, you're ready," Brailsford said. "He's ready."

For his own part, Bernal said the strength of Team Ineos gives him confidence.

"I think that I'm young to be a GC rider, but I have a team with a lot of experience," he said. "For me it's a little bit easier when you have some team-mates that you can follow.

"I follow them and they put me in a good position in the final and I try to do my best. With a team like this, maybe it's a little bit easier."

  • The route

The race starts on 6 July in Belgium and ends with a traditional finish on 28 July along the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

It has 21 stages - with two rest days after stage 10 and stage 15.

The Tour de France 2019 kicks off in Belgium, a return to foreign starts for the race after a home start in Vendée in 2018.

Credit: Tour de France website
  • In numbers

22 teams of eight riders will take part Credit: PA Images
4,500 people including the teams, media and suppliers are involved Credit: PA Images
10-12m spectators will line the roadsides to watch the tour Credit: PA Images