Last updated on .From the section Cycling
Ineos Grenadiers rider Luke Rowe says his team-mate Geraint Thomas can return to the Tour de France in 2021 and challenge for the yellow jersey.
Ineos Grenadiers will focus on last year’s winner Egan Bernal and 2019 Giro d’Italia victor Richard Carapaz.
“Next year, if I was a betting man, I would say Geraint will be on the start line,” Rowe told BBC Radio Wales Sport.
The three-week Tour de France, originally set to start on 27 June, gets under way on Saturday in Nice.
Road captain Rowe will be without his Welsh compatriot Thomas as he competes in the world’s most renowned race for the sixth time, despite Thomas winning in 2018 and finishing second last year.
Thomas will instead lead Ineos at the Giro d’Italia in October, while Froome, who is leaving the team at the end of the current season, will lead them at the Vuelta a Espana.
‘Not bringing him the right decision’
Rowe and childhood friend Thomas have been competing together in the Tour de France since 2015, but Rowe says he understands the reasoning behind leaving him behind, even though he will miss his compatriot.
“G has been part of the last five along with myself. I’ve grown up with him and we’ve been together on and off the bike,” he explained.
“So it’s a bit of a different change. It’s a bit of a bold move, not bringing him. I was with him in the week training and we spoke about it in quite some length and we both agree it is the right decision.
“If you’re not quite 100%, you’re going to struggle here. It’s such a high level that if you’re at 95%, it is not worth coming.
“For sure though, come the Giro, the Tour of Italy in six weeks’ time, he will be 100% and can go there and hopefully win a pink jersey and add a different colour to the collection.
“Having said all that, coming into a race like this, it is nice to have one of your best mates alongside you and he will be missed.”
‘Next year he can challenge’
Rowe says Thomas was initially disappointed to be left out of the race, but says his compatriot would have struggled to be a back-up rider on the road to Paris.
“If you’ve finished first two years ago and second last year, on paper you are one of the clear favourites to come and win it again or certainly to be at the pointy end and that is what this whole season was focused on, the Tour de France, so at first I think he was bound to be a bit disappointed, it is a bit of a shock,” Rowe explained.
“But if you’ve been first and second, do you really want to come back and be a support rider? Or do you wait another month to be the big dog?”
As for competing next year, Rowe is certain Thomas can return.
“I’m sure he will be there,” he said. “He still remains one of the most complete riders in the world.
“That’s the reality of it, he’s one of the most complete and established riders in the world, so there is no reason he can’t come back and compete for the win next year.”
The racing gets under way in Nice, which is one of 19 new French regions to be put under alert for Covid-19.
Ineos boss Sir Dave Brailsford admitted “We don’t know if we’re going to reach Paris,” with daily Covid-19 cases having reached a new post-lockdown high in France of 6,111.
Rowe, whose family are unable to attend any stage of the race, which will see fans allowed to watch, says the riders have to trust in the protocols in place.
“The race has got a slightly different kind of edge to it,” Rowe said.
“With Nice now classified as a red zone with cases very high, we just have to listen to the instructions and the protocols, listen to the big dogs and have faith that they are doing the right things.
“We are in this bubble… we just have to have confidence in the organisation around us.
“I said goodbye to my wife and son and that’s it for three-and-a-half weeks. They can’t even come to Paris… but it has got to be done.
“If everyone’s family came it would be another 6-800 people in the bubble… it is something that has to be done to protect everyone.
“Everything is being done that can be done, but of course there remains a massive risk.
“The crowds will be a lot smaller, but still significant, it is the Tour de France and people love to come out and watch.
“We are here now, we are in the thick of it and need to get the job done.”