Geraint Thomas came to the Tour Down Under flagged as one of the top contenders for overall victory, but Team Sky’s focus turned towards helping Colombian Sergio Henao, who showed impressive form early and finished third overall behind winner, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Richie Porte (BMC).
Thomas, who is undergoing his transition into a grand tour rider – with his eye firmly on discovering his potential in the Tour de France – played a crucial role in helping Henao, especially on Saturday’s fifth stage to Willunga Hill where Henao placed second behind Porte.
Rupert Guinness and another European based journalist spoke to Thomas earlier during the week about his plans and hopes for this season - and beyond.
Question: How did your transitioning into a Grand Tour rider come about?
Geraint Thomas: After last year I was really shocked, really and excited and I just wanted to see how far I can take that. This year, the week long stages are the ones I really want to get stuck into and see what I can do. Then when it comes to the Tour I want to go as a solid back up for ‘Froomey,’ and if anything did happen I would want to be at my best to try to make the most of that. I think I am in the best team to learn to do that … not just to get fit and everything I need to do at that level, but also when it comes to off the bike … and just being around ‘Froomey’ so much and seeing how he dealt with all the [off saddle] stuff happening [last] year. Also just leading the team in stages races is a lot different mentally than just going to a stage race and having to set the pace with 5km to go. [It] is quite a bit different to be the one to finish it off.
Q: How closely have you and Froome spoken about your transition as a rider?
GT: I speak to ‘Froomey’ a lot. I obviously do a hell of a lot of training with him. He seemed genuinely gutted when I had that bad day and lost my position [in last year’s Tour]. He is constantly talking, ‘Oh ‘G’ you could be on that podium alongside me,’ which for sure would be awesome, but I think for myself I am not really going to give myself a target as in an overall position. But as high as possible would be great.
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Q: Is there anything learned from past Tours when Sky had Wiggins and Froome, or when Froome crashed out in 2014 and Porte became ‘Plan B’?
GT: Just that anything can happen, especially in the Tour over three weeks. The whole plan is to get there as best as I can and some people have already asked me, what if it comes down to a ‘Brad-Froome’ sort of scenario and would I attack and all this and that … For me the goal is to be in the position where I am good enough to attack, and attack to race for the win; and when it comes down it there are so many different scenarios. The goal from here is to just be as good as I can be for July and obviously for my bit, for Froomey, but hopefully think about myself a bit more and not have that that bad day and maybe hold on to as good a GC position I can really.
Q:Is your focus on the Tour? Is the Vuelta a Espana or Giro d’Italia an option?
GT: See how this year goes and if I feel like I can lead a team in a grand tour. I would be up for riding Giro-Vuelta next year … I don’t know. I think you can do the Giro and Vuelta in the same year and be competitive in both. That’s a hell of a lot of learning and stuff you can go through. At the same time, to miss the Tour would be big. It just depends on how the Tour goes this year. [I’ll] make more decisions after.
Q: Interestingly, the Tour of Flanders will be your only cobbled classic this year.
GT: The thinking is I will do Paris-Nice, go to Catalunya and drop in, do Flanders and then a short camp in Tenerife and then do Liege and Romandie. It’s come to that point where I need to decide what road I want to go down. I think you can still be competitive in both – the one day cobbles and on ‘GC’ [in tours]. But I want to ride as many stage races as I can. It’s all learning and trying to grow. Catalunya [also] falls the wrong time. It clashes with E3 and Wevelgem. It was a hard decision to make because E3 is my biggest win and I love that race. I have done it a number of times and have always had decent results. But you have to make a call somewhere.
Q: With so much about general classification racing being about power-to-weight ratio, how much weight do you have to lose to reach that optimal level?
GT: I was around 68 [kg] in the Tour last year, so I think maybe one more kilo. But there is also a fine balance. I don’t want to push it too much and then go to the Tour too light and have no power, especially with a time trial there as well this year. I definitely am going to try and keep a lid on it because it is so easy too … it’s infectious, especially when you go to training camps, to keep pushing. Its also having that confidence to stop and say,’ Okay this weight is good,’ and still train hard. It’s when you are going hard as well and go ‘do another hour’ or toughen up a little or do an extra little effort, then you can find yourself just going over the edge.
Q: Is there a specific Tour stage when you realised your ‘GC’ potential?
GT: It was more the whole thing I think. The best stage for sure was to Plateau de Beille in the rain. That was my best day on the bike in the Tour for sure, leading all those guys, all the big names on my wheel. That was massive. And when you are there as well you are tired and struggling, but you get such a buzz from being there, doing that. That spurs you on. And then it was after the race when you look back and go,’ Oh, Geez that was a decent race, a decent three weeks.’ Obviously stage 19 wasn’t ideal but when I look back [at the Tour] as a whole, yeah … that was good.
Q: You know how well Froome handles the stress. How will you handle it?
GT: Pressure wise, you don’t get any more pressure than an Olympic final in London, team pursuit. But when it comes to everything else, I think I am pretty thick skinned and I don’t go on Twitter much. I write the odd Tweet or whatever but that is one thing where ‘Froomey’ impressed me with. He was so aware of what everyone was saying, yet it still didn’t really get to him. At least, he didn’t show it and he used it in the right ways. That is one thing you only find out when you are in that position.
Q: You’ll also have heavy load with the Olympics Games in August …
GT: I will do similar to the ‘Commie’ Games, go full gas in the Tour and not even think about afterwards, then kind of switch your mind to Olympics. I want to try and get a ride in both [road race and time trial] but we only have one spot in the ‘TT’ so that’s a big shame, but I want to give everything to try to go there and ride both.
Rupert Guinness is a sports journalist on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)