GERAINT THOMAS is under no illusions about the level of competition he faces as he attempts to win his second Tour de France over the next three weeks.

The Team Ineos Grenadiers rider began his 11th Tour on the weekend as the world’s biggest bike race gets underway in the town of Brest, in Britanny.

After a disappointing 2020, in which he crashed out in stage three of the Giro d’Italia, Thomas believes he is in good shape ahead of this year’s race, having finished third, behind team-mate Richie Porte, in the Criterium du Dauphine, and won the Tour de Romandie.

In an interview with S4C’s Seiclo series, which will be showing live coverage and highlights from every stage of the race, Thomas said: “I’m going to try and get the best result possible, and try and win it. The way I’ve treated it is to get here in the best shape I can, and I feel I’ve done that.

“Winning in 2018 was unbelievable, the highlight of my career by far. It wasn’t quite on a par, but I was still hugely satisfied with coming second the year after. My life was so bonkers after winning the Tour, like a six month party afterwards really, so to then get back into good enough shape to finish second and only lose to a team-mate – 2019 was also an amazing feeling.

“This is going to be my 11th Tour now and I’ve had plenty of ups and downs along the way. Obviously in 2017, I wore the yellow jersey for five days and then crashed out with a broken collar bone, so there has been up and downs, but it’s the best bike race in the world and the one you dream about being a part of, so it’s great to be here again.”

The Ineos Grenadiers line-up looks particularly strong this year, featuring three grand tour winners, Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richard Carapaz, plus the evergreen Richie Porte, who came third in last year’s Tour and won this year’s Dauphine.

“Most definitely it’s a strong team”, added Thomas. “We’ve got three guys who have won a grand tour and obviously Richie Porte, who was third in the Tour last year, so we’ve certainly got some strong guys.

“Obviously, there will be some sort of pecking order, but at the same time it’s good to have those options and those cards to play, because as long as we ride together and communicate really well, that’s key.

“I think the way the Giro went for the team last year, I was the sole leader there and I crashed out on the third day so they had to change the mindset of how they raced, and it was a really successful Giro for them, and we ended up winning with Teo and winning six stages, so they didn’t miss me too much! But after that, we thought let’s keep that mindset and philosophy going.

“We all know the tour is three weeks of hard racing, it’s not like we can go out all guns blazing in the first week and doing all this crazy stuff because but the third week we’ll all be on our knees. But it’s nice to have a bit more freedom, a bit more spontaneity in the team.

“For sure I’d love to win it again, but if I can’t and a team-mate can, then I will 100 per cent get behind them.”

His stiffest competition undoubtedly comes in the shape of the two Slovenian riders who so memorably contested last year’s Maillot Jaune – Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic.

He said: “Roglic and Pogacar were the men of the year last year and they’ve started this year strongly as well, so for sure they’re the two favourites. And then you’ve got a heap of guys underneath that, you’ve got all of us here, and Movistar, who are strong with Lopez and Mas, and then Astana have been riding strong, Bahrain have been riding strong and EF. It’s more competitive than ever, so it’s going to be an exciting race.

“Every Tour is tough but having two time trials in there, on flat to rolling courses, does suit my strengths. There’s also a lot of climbing, as there always is in the Tour, and there’s some flat days as well so there’s going to be wind and stressful moments, but that’s something we’re generally good at in this team. So there’s a lot to go for, but as always, take it each day as it comes.

“Last year was a massive anomaly in the programme, so it’s been nice to get back to the structure that I’m used to. I’ve had a couple of third places in some big week races, and I won the Romandie as well, so it’s been a good run up to the race. So I’m hoping I can keep that going. I’m just looking forward to racing now.”