Geraint Thomas' build-up to the Giro d’Italia is back on track after a stint of altitude training, and with the Tour of the Alps his final race before the Italian Grand Tour, the Welshman believes that he has learned valuable lessons from a disappointing ride in last month’s Volta a Catalunya.
Thomas took a pasting at the Catalan race, cracking on the key mountain stage before being caught out alongside his Team Sky teammate, Chris Froome, when several riders launched an audacious mass attack on the penultimate stage. Thomas went into Catalunya as Team Sky’s nominated leader after a strong start to the season. The heavy defeat could have severely dented his Giro hopes, but the Welshman has had time to digest the outcome of finishing 34th overall, calling it a much-needed reality check.
“The race was okay but I had a bit of a shitty day on the big mountain stage and mentally I cracked a bit when I was dropped by the lead group,” Thomas told Cyclingnews during a rest day at his Tenerife training camp.
“I definitely learnt a few things about myself and how to approach the Giro and then on the Saturday stage we lost time as a team. That went even worse. That was screwed up but I came out of the race with a good workload, training-wise.”
Thomas had risen to third on GC after stage 3, and looked on course to challenge Alejandro Valverde for the win. Two days later Valverde stamped his authority on the race, winning on the slopes of Lo Port as Thomas lost over a minute. That defeat came out of the blue for a rider who made the top five in Tirreno-Adriatico, where he won a stage and was Nairo Quintana’s closest opposition on the ascent of the Terminillo.
“That day in Catalunya, I learnt to focus on myself and not let people either up the road or behind influence me,” Thomas told Cyclingnews.
“I need to race and stay in my own little world instead of being drawn into other things and getting emotional. It’s about knowing and judging my effort well. I cracked mentally once I lost contact with the leaders and then when Dan Martin went that really killed me. He kicked as soon as he caught me and just rode away from me. I have to stay strong in those situations and maybe use the power meter a bit more. Everyone sees that as a negative, riding off power, but I think using it as a gauge can be useful. It helps keep you focused because it’s quite easy to lose it a bit.”
Thomas is well aware that his Giro d’Italia challenge will rest on how well he deals with the inevitable obstacles and knocks that come with Grand Tour racing. The corsa rosa is an entirely different beast to the Tour de France and Team Sky have struggled to bring their A-game to Italy in the past. According to Thomas, Catalunya reminded him that little can be taken for granted in racing and that every stage – as was shown on the road to Reus in Spain – can be used to ambush GC hopefuls who take their foot off the gas for even a second.
“I needed that kicking, maybe. Up until then things had been going really well and I was able to do anything I really wanted. I think Catalunya gave me a reality check. It taught me that I wasn’t invincible and that I’m going to have mediocre days and that it’s about dealing with them. At the Giro it’s going to be more unpredictable than what you get at the Tour.”
“The Saturday stage to Reus was a wake-up call. It showed that anything can happen in bike racing, especially more so at the Giro than the Tour. Even though they were negative experience, I learnt more from them than, say, the stage up the Terminillo in Tirreno-Adriatico.”
When Movistar and Trek Segafredo led the assault that ended with Thomas and Froome almost missing the time cut, it brought back memories of Team Sky’s disaster to Formigal in last year’s Vuelta a Espana when Orica, Movistar and Tinkoff lit up the stage and distanced Froome early on. The Tour de France winner never saw the front of the peloton again and lost all hopes of winning the GC. Thomas believes that Sky do not have a weakness when it comes to reading races and sensing possible dangers, but that any mistake is highlighted due to their overall dominance in stage racing.
“We’re so successful so that any mistake is highlighted more,” he said. “I don’t think we were ambushed and in Catalunya, if Contador had been in the second group and not Froome, then the same thing would have happened. I don’t think teams gang up on Sky but if a race situation happens and the guy in second place is left behind then you’ll have three or four teams willing to ride.
“We’ve been successful in the last years and of course other teams might want to beat us more than certain other teams but at the same time, it depends on the race, and I don't think that teams are necessarily racing just against us. If they’re doing that then they’re only hampering their own chances anyway.”
After completing his current altitude camp Thomas will head to next week’s Tour of the Alps – formerly known as the Giro del Trentino – where he will face off against his Giro rivals for the last time before next month’s main event. There will be a chance to recon a handful of Giro stages but the plan is for Thomas to arrive in Sardinia as fresh as possible.
“I’ll treat Trentino as a good opportunity to race hard. I’ll try and get the best result that I can. I wouldn’t say that I’m massively targeting the GC but I want to go there and ride well. Every stage needs to be treated as an opportunity to get a win for me and the team. It’s a nice chance for others in the team to have their opportunity as well, if they’ve been working for others during the rest of the season. It’s a solid block of racing but I’m pretty relaxed about it to be honest.”