Despite his credentials in the race — he won it in 2018 and was runner-up a year later — and his vast experience — this will be his 12th Tour — his results had been uninspiring.
Off the back of that, he was called up for the Tour de Suisse as a super domestique for the team’s rising star, 22-year-old Tom Pidcock, only to upstage his fellow Briton and the rest of the field to win.
Now his status has swiftly switched. This week, he was named leader for his team’s push on a race they had dominated for so long before Tadej Pogacar’s emergence as, arguably, the star general classification (GC) rider of his generation.
Now 36, Thomas knows this could be his last shot at cycling’s blue riband event, not that he appeared unduly concerned ahead of tomorrow’s race start in Copenhagen.
“I’ve obviously won this race and finished second,” he said. “I just want to enjoy these races now. Well, I’ll try to enjoy it. That’s hard to say when you’re bashing elbows and swearing at people at 60kph in the wind. But I’m pretty relaxed about it, just take it how it comes.
“I want to be there in the mix and take the opportunity if it comes. Personally, hopefully I can be there in the crunch moments and affect the race positively for us.”
Ineos’ modus operandi has changed. In the past, they would ride their way into yellow, then set such a fierce tempo for the rest of the field that their rivals cracked one by one.
They know Pogacar and fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic are the stand-out riders in the peloton.
Instead, Ineos are aiming to be the sum of their parts. While Thomas will start as team leader, Dani Martinez and Adam Yates are good enough GC contenders, while Pidcock, who has an ability to turn his hand to anything on two wheels as an Olympic mountain bike gold medallist, could yet come to the fore.
“The main difference is that we don’t have the favourite now,” said Thomas. “So, we can’t ride the same anymore. If we pull all day, set tempo and then it comes down to man v man, it’s hard to beat them.
Now 36, Thomas knows this could be his last shot at cycling’s blue riband event
“But we have numbers here and hopefully we can use them in the right moments and use that to our advantage. That’s a big change.”
The opening week plays to Thomas’s adaptability, with a ride against the clock, cobblestone sections and windy conditions, so too Pidcock, for whom a GC shot would be premature, despite his clear brilliance.
“The racing is new to him,” said Thomas of the Tour debutant. “But he’s constantly learning, he’s an intelligent bike rider. He can be successful as well, for sure. It’s exciting, we’ve got a good mix of experience, youth and aggression.”