For a rider who has specialised in trying his hand at almost every discipline in the sport, one of Geraint Thomas’ main challenges appears to be focusing on just one event.
The focal point for this season is the Giro d’Italia, where Thomas will co-lead Team Sky alongside Mikel Landa. In order to focus on the Italian Grand Tour, the Welshman has had to shed himself of any other distractions – most notably the Spring Classics.
Until the Giro d'Italia is ticked off, Thomas will not race a single one-day race, with a series of stage races peppered by stints at altitude camps. For a rider who has won E3 Harelbeke, finished on the podium at Gent-Wevelgem, and shown both skill and passion for one-day races, the switch to Grand Tour mode has been a significant adjustment.
“I have been tempted to do the Tour of Flanders but I need to keep telling myself to commit to one thing this year and to see how it goes. I’ve got plenty more years, touch wood, to ride Flanders,” he told Cyclingnews during a post-training massage at a training camp in South Africa.
“It’s only in my head,” he said in relation to Flanders.
“I’ve not spoken to the team or anything about it but if I’m on the bike with Luke Rowe and we start talking about the Classics I think to myself, ‘it would be great to just drop in and do that race’ but I need to stick to that one thing this year. Like I said, there are plenty more years to come.”
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The uncharted waters Thomas is navigating, as he looks for Giro d’Italia success, are both choppy and unpredictable.
Team Sky has tried and failed to win the Giro d'Italia on a number of occasions and from the perspective of cold, hard results, Thomas it the least experienced GC candidate the team have ever put up. Bradley Wiggins headed to the Giro in 2013 as the defending Tour de France champion, while both Mikel Landa (2016) and Richie Porte (2015) lined up at the race with top 10 performances in Grand Tours.
Thomas has finished 15th in the last two editions of the Tour de France and while his coach Tim Kerrison firmly believes that the 30-year-old can win the Giro d'Italia, the Welshman is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“I guess that you train as best you can and then you try and be ready for the race. The goal is to get the best result, which is obviously to win but at the same time if I don’t win, it’s not a failure. I’m going there to do my best and whatever happens, happens.”
One lesson learnt from last year’s Tour de France surrounds Thomas’ weight management.
At the start of 2016, Team Sky was keen to position Thomas as their ‘Plan B’ in the unlikely scenario of Chris Froome faltering. As the Tour drew closer and Thomas endured a difficult Tour de Suisse, the strategy was altered, with Thomas reverting back to his domestique duties. Team Sky's weight-loss programme had weakened him, too much timber had been shed too quickly and he spent the first part of the Tour de France almost in recovery mode. That mistake, he hopes, will not be made this year.
“I keep talking to Tim about that all the time, about the rest periods in between races. Those rest periods are crucial and that’s the one thing that I learnt last year. Diet wise, I’m trying to be more consistent and not trying to lose too much weight too soon," he explained.
“It’s a hard thing to do, because when you’re going well you want to keep pushing but what you need to do is back off and soak it up so that your body can adapt. That’s when you get stronger.”
For Thomas, the discussion regarding weight is somewhat secondary to the main focus of both form and health.
“Having come from the track I’ve never been super light so it’s always been a bit of trial and error, and then finding out what the best weight is for me before maintaining it.
"The lightest I was last year was around 67kg. Maybe I could get there again but more consistently. The main thing with a Grand Tour, is about being strong at the end. Last year in the Tour I was quite a bit heavier than I was at the start but I had one of my best days near the end. It’s about being strong, healthy and durable. I don’t think that being super lightweight in that final week is really that important.”
Racing hard at Tirreno-Adriatico
Thomas’ training camp in South Africa with Chris Froome will draw to a close in a week’s time, at which point he will return to Europe and fine tune his condition ahead of his next race, Tirreno-Adriatico. He does not have happy memories of the race with his last participation in 2009 ending with a heavy fall that left him with a broken nose and fractured pelvis.
“I’ll go there and race hard. We’ll go there with a strong team and we can get a result. Hopefully I’ll have a decent ride but it’s always different with a team time trial but there’s a lot of good little tests there with an individual time trial and then a mountain-top finish. I see it as a step towards the Giro. But at the end of the day it’s a race and I want to get the best result possible, unless someone else on the team is going better, in which case I’ll help them.”
“For the Giro, I’m trying to do something similar to the lead up to the Tour. I don’t normally have two altitude camps before the Tour but this block here will be good. Then I’ll have two good stage races, another block at altitude into Trentino and then I’ll be at the Giro.”