The four-letter expletive was probably all Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) needed to provide in terms of a post-race interview. After conceding the leader’s jersey in unfortunate circumstances on stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico, the single word eloquently, if not a little brashly, perfectly seemed to sum up the Welshman’s afternoon.
When he finally composed himself atop the snow-banked summit finish at Sassotetto, the Welshman could finally begin to consider what had just happened after a frantic last few kilometers saw the race turn on its head.
With five kilometers to go Thomas and his Team Sky cohorts looked comfortable. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and a small raiding party had gone clear, but with the GC threats kept at close quarters Team Sky would have been forgiven for letting their minds drift towards their post-stage warm-downs and those fabled pillows.
When Mikel Landa (Movistar) attacked, and then Chris Froome (Team Sky) slipped from the back of the leader’s group, the situation moved to defcon 5 - still not a panic but certainly a development. Losing Froome was a problem but not a crisis, especially with Team Sky's Michal Kwiatkowski tapping out a steady pace on the front. In the blink of an eye, everything changed. Defon 5 to Defon 4.
First Romain Bardet attacked. The Frenchman strung the group out, but when Thomas attempted to change gear and chase, his chain slipped. Defcon 3, 2 and 1 all at once. Neutral service pulled up and haplessly offered their support, but with Kwiatkowski responding to attacks and Froome all out of puff, Thomas’ race unraveled.
Eventually a new bike was provided, Froome came back and provided a valiant and potentially race-saving turn, but when Landa took the stage and Damiano Caruso inherited the leader’s jersey from Thomas’ shoulders, the Welshman could be forgiven for wondering what had just happened. Bike racing - so captivating, yet so beautiful and cruel in equal measures - had robbed Thomas of the chance to at least go toe-to-with his rivals.
“I was changing into the big ring and the chain just came off and got stuck. That’s so annoying. I felt good and tried to close the gap with about a kilometer to go, but I can’t believe it. I was yanking it and was trying to get it off and it wouldn’t come out. It’s just one of those things,” Thomas said as he dressed for the descent.
“It seemed like an eternity to try and get the chain out and then neutral service tried to help. Then I got a bike and fortunately Froome was there and gave me a good turn, but it’s so annoying.”
When Thomas gave his initial reaction, he and those huddled around him were unaware of the time gaps or the new overall standings. One voice proclaimed that ‘Landa’ was the new king, another interjected with a call for ‘Kwiatkowski’. The Pole, close by, was unsure but zipped up his jacket as if he was about to leave for the team bus.
Minutes later the new standings were released, with Caruso leading Kwiatkowski by a single second and Wilco Kelderman by 11 seconds. Thomas dropped down to fifth at 26 seconds.
“I’ll have to have a look at the results, but that’s really frustrating,” Thomas reiterated. “It was all going so well and I felt good. I was just waiting. It’s just ridiculous. There’s still a few days of racing.”
Froome slips back
Froome, meanwhile, admitted that he is not at his best. He was dropped inside the final few kilometers, unable to hold the pace that his own team were setting.
“It’s tough racing, but that’s exactly what I deserve at this point in the season," he said. "Today was tricky and we were doing everything we could to try and keep the jersey on Geraint’s shoulders. He had a mechanical problem, but we tried to do everything we could.”
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