FORMER Abergavenny Cycling Festival favourite Geraint Thomas stormed into second in the Giro d’Italia in Sunday’s time-trial, finishing just a second behind stage 9 winner and new overall leader Remco Evenepoel.

But within hours the Welsh 2018 Tour De France winner, who owns the St Tewdrics wedding venue near Chepstow, was top of the heap in the pink jersey, when his Belgian rival pulled out with Covid.

And Thomas, who named the Blorenge Tumble ride one of his top hills in his book ‘Mountains According to G’, finished yesterday’s stage (Tuesday, May 16) in the pack with his main rivals to retain the lead following Monday’s rest day.

The shake-up also elevated his Ineos team-mate and former Giro winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, who placed third in Sunday’s stage, to third overall five seconds behind, with three-time Tour of Spain winner Primoz Roglic, sixth in the stage, second two seconds back.

On Saturday, 36-year-old Thomas – third in last year’s Tour de France – had made a statement of intent by bridging a 14-second gap on the last hill to finish with Roglic.

But despite beating the Slovenian in Sunday’s time-trial and overhauling him on the leadership board, Thomas saw the agonising one-second loss to Evenepoel as an opportunity missed to bag that elusive first TT Giro stage win.

“There were a couple of swearwords, but he’s obviously a massive talent and as we saw in the first TT he’s strong in the time trial. But I was surprised at how close it was…” he admitted after finishing.

“It’s obviously nice to feel the legs are coming but I’ve been a few times second in a Giro TT now and it’s a bit annoying. It’s a good result for myself, for Tao and the other boys. The team’s looking strong, but it would have been nice to have got that win…

“I didn’t know really what to expect, I was just trying to focus on what I needed to do and hope I’d be up there. It was a close one.”

And on his challenge for top honours, Geraint added: “It’s the story of my career, proving people wrong, everyone always doubts me and it’s nice to be getting better.”

Looking ahead before Tuesday’s hilly 196km route, he said: “There’s still two weeks to go, but as a team we’re in a strong position and hopefully we can use that strength now...

“It’s feeling better, it’s just day by day, just keep doing the right things now and stay in our own little world, own little bubble and do what you do.”

And having crashed out of his last two Giros, he added: “So far, so good, but never take anything for granted in this game, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Stage 11 today (Wednesday, May 17) is a 219km (136-mile) route from Camaiore to Tortona, with three lower-classification climbs.