NORTH Wales cycling figures are backing Geraint Thomas in his efforts to retain his Tour de France crown.

Last July, Team Sky favourite Thomas memorably became their first Welshman to win the gruelling event.

Now, racing for Team INEOS, Thomas will be the joint team leader for this year's Tour.

John Clayton, of Rhos-on-Sea Cycling Club, said the Tour de France was wide open this year.

"With Chris Froome out, the patriotic side of me favours Geraint Thomas in Dave Brailsford's new team," he said.

"'G' does not seem to have shown the form since last year to support that patriotism.

"His team-mate Egan Bernal, however, could just do it.

"The hills this year look terrifyingly tough, so this is where the race will be won."

A Ruthin Cycling Club spokesman said: "I'm hoping for Geraint, but (I) reckon Egan Bernal for the win."

Rhyl Cycling Club's Jon Harland is fully behind Geraint Thomas' push for further Tour glory.

He said: "UK wide, we have the greatest pool of talent in 'stage racing' we have ever had.

"Despite the loss of Chris Froome to injury, Geraint Thomas or the Yates brothers (Adam and Simon) are realistic challengers for the Maillot Jeune in Paris.

"Thomas to win for Wales!"

Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal will be joint leaders of Team INEOS in the 2019 Tour de France, in what will be the team’s first race at Le Tour under new ownership.

Jonathan Castroviejo, Michal Kwiatkowski, Gianni Moscon, Wout Poels, Welshman Luke Rowe and Dylan van Baarle complete the team’s line-up for the 21-stage race, which starts today in Brussels.

Thomas told the Team INEOS website: "We believe it makes sense to go into the race with joint leaders as it gives us more options.

"Egan and I will work hard for each other and the team over the three weeks of the race."

Thomas is excited about returning to the Tour and he added: “Winning the Tour de France last year was the highlight of my professional cycling career and racing with the number one on my back is going to be special this year.

"The memories of 2018 will remain with me forever, but now I’m ready to create more with the team this year.

"It’s no secret my build-up has been affected by the crash at Tour de Suisse, but I’ve had a good block of training since and I feel ready."

Team INEOS principal Sir Dave Brailsford, who hails from Deiniolen, said: “There is always a strong sense of anticipation before any Tour, but this one is that bit more special for us as it’s our first racing as Team INEOS.

"And whilst our preparation hasn’t been straightforward following Chris Froome’s recent crash, we will be at the start line with a really strong team that is hungry to win again.

“After the success of last year, we have decided to come into the race with joint leaders.

"Geraint and Egan are both in great form.

"They trust each other and we believe that this approach will best suit us as a team by giving us the greatest flexibility on the road and the best possible chance of success."