By Shane Stokes
At 21 years of age, Welshman Geraint Thomas is the youngest rider in this year's Tour de France. He is riding his first Grand Tour for the Barloworld team, who were given a wild card to the race. While his youth means that he won't try to get to Paris, he is learning a lot and enjoying the experience.
"It has been great to get stuck in and see what it is all about," he told Cyclingnews on Thursday, one day before he placed 15th on stage six. "It is the best and biggest bike race in the world. Everyone is in good shape so it enables to see where I am at on the bigger scale.
"My goal coming into the race was to get stuck in and to help Rob [Robbie Hunter] out. I see myself more as a leadout man at the minute. It is all about learning for that and seeing what I can do. I dont feel out of my depth or anything, I feel like I can still do quite a good job for Rob."
Hunter finished a very close second to Thor Hushovd on Wednesday. Thomas assisted in the lead-up to that gallop and while Hunter and the rest of the team were frustrated to miss out on the win, it has marked the South African out as a possible stage victor later in the race.
"Yesterday I was just there to help him out," said Thomas on Thursday, describing what he did. "I hit the front with about a kilometre and a half to go. I wasn't initially sure what to do as I didnt know where he was, but afterwards I had a good chat with Rob and he said that I did the right thing.
"He was pretty frustrated with the result. It is obviously not nice to come second and he has got the fastest legs in the race. There is nothing he could have done. Well, with a bit more luck it could have been different, but he had to come from the long way around and was still within a whisker of winning. I think it is definitely looking good for the rest of the race. If he can get up there and we have a bit of luck on our side, I think he can get a stage win."
Hunter finished eighth on Friday's stage, which went to former world champ Tom Boonen (QuickStep Innergetic) ahead of Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Erik Zabel (Milram). It was probably Thomas' last chance to help him in the race, as the Tour now heads into the mountains. He is likely to call it quits soon.
"I am the youngest in the race," said Thomas. "I just want to get to the first rest day and then after that it is just a bonus. There is no pressure to get to Paris or anything.
"At the start of the year I didnt think there would be a chance of doing the Tour. When I found out that the Tour was going to be in London this year I was a bit gutted about it, to be honest, because I was hoping it would be in 2009 or 2010 as that is when I thought I would have a chance to be riding it. So to be here is special. I will just make the most of it."
He's currently in the first year of a two year deal with Barloworld. He's happy with the squad, although needs to master the lingo. "The team is very good. They mainly speak Italian so the language is a bit hard. I get on with Rob really well, I room with him. All the other lads are really easy to get along with too."