The 2016 Tour Down Under will be a familiar yet unusual affair for Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) as he lines up for the seventh time in the race. However he does so against his former teammate, Richie Porte.
Thomas and Porte have similar ambitions in 2016 as both riders eye off a high finish on GC at the Tour de France, rather than targeting early season stage races or the classics as 29-year-old Thomas has done so in recent seasons.
"It will be strange now. He’ll be shouting at us now rather than BMC," Thomas said of Porte. "He used to love that going up a climb. It will be strange as like you say, we've ridden together for a few good years now and we are good mates. I hope he does really well and comes second behind us."
In 2015 Thomas balanced stage racing ambitions along with a classics campaign as he first won the Volta ao Algarve in February, was fifth at Paris-Nice in March, then turned his attention to the classics where he won E3 Harelbeke, and finished third at Gent-Wevelgem. Thomas then placed second overall at Tour de Suisse before his breakout Tour de France performance where he was sitting fourth on GC starting stage 19. He eventually rolled into Paris in 15th place overall.
With Thomas turning his attention to his stage racing ambitions, the Welshman has also won Bayern-Rundfahrt twice and finished third at the Tour Down Under. He and Porte will turn from teammates to rivals. The progress of both riders as grand tour contenders will be an intriguing sub-plot to the early component of the 2016 season, and with both riders knowing each other's strengths and weakness, Thomas admits measuring his performances against Porte's will be exciting.
"I think we have a similar programme so it’s going to be an interesting year but exciting. He’s gone off to get a bit more of his freedom now and Tour is something he wants to do really well in. I’d love to see him do well and for me it’s a similar sort of story as well I guess," he said, adding, "last year I had a really good Tour and that sort of really opened my eyes as to what I can do there in the future."
First though, Thomas will line up with a Team Sky squad full of options at the Tour Down Under, a race he first appeared in back in 2007, unsure exactly what form and condition he is in compared to previous years when the South Australian race was a target.
"November and December, I trained hard but I wasn’t like in some previous years where I was like ‘I really want to go to Oz firing’ so I’m pretty chilled, but obviously still have some good legs to race hard, get stuck in and see what happens. We have a strong team here and it’s up for anyone to take their chance and lead the team. I am super excited to race. I haven’t raced since the Vuelta and I love coming down here. We’ve been here just over two weeks now so it’s great to be back.
"We’ll see how Corkscrew goes, that’s the first real test," he said of the stage 3 climb. "I feel OK in training but it depends on how this guy goes [Dennis, ed] and a few of the others for my own ambitions. Pretty relaxed, have fun and get stuck in."
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Having seen the race shift from a sprinters paradise to offering something for sprinters, puncheurs and climbers, Thomas added the Tour Down Under continues to be his choice of season opening race, regardless of his July ambitions.
"I think it’s great, since the last few years it’s been a great way to start the year," he added of the race. "It’s got stages for the sprinters then some tough days, they are not too tough, not too long. It can get really hot here so there's all that to take into account, it’s the one hotel with everything within half an hour away so it’s a great place training wise before it as well."