Chris Froome's decision to ride the 2018 Giro d'Italia after carefully considering the (reported) two million compelling reasons to do so will undoubtedly have an impact on the racing schedules of his Grand Tour rivals next season, but perhaps the greatest effect of all will be on a Team Sky teammate who, at 31 years of age, is running out of time to launch his career as a Grand Tour contender in earnest. Where does it leave Geraint Thomas?
The Welshman is now one of only three survivors from the roster for Sky's debut season in 2010 – Froome and Ian Stannard are the others – and over the past eight seasons, he has been deployed in just about every role, in the manner of Phil Neville during his time at Manchester United. In the early years, with Sky and British Cycling so tightly bound as to be almost indistinguishable, Thomas toggled between road and track in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics. As the seasons progressed, he would complete a full Classics campaign – only occasionally as an outright leader – and then slot into a key role in the praetorian guard supporting Froome at the Tour de France.
In the spring of 2017, as manager Dave Brailsford evaded media questioning over the series of scandals that threatened the very existence of the team, and as Froome maintained a loaded silence, Thomas even seemed to be pressed into the role of de facto team spokesman, as he rarely shied away from fielding questions from reporters outside the Sky bus.
Such loyalty was to be rewarded by a genuine tilt at leadership of Team Sky at a Grand Tour, and Thomas duly lined out at the 2017 Giro as the team's co-captain alongside Mikel Landa. Although Thomas was hardly a favourite for overall victory – his best three-week placing, after all, is 15th at the 2015 and 2016 Tours – victory in the preceding Tour of the Alps meant that he entered the race with some confidence.
Not for the first time in his career, however, Thomas endured ill fortune on the big occasion. A crash at the base of the Blockhaus cost him all hopes of a high overall finish, and he eventually abandoned the Giro in week two. There was further disappointment at the Tour, where joy at claiming the opening stage of the race was tempered by another crash and abandon on stage 9.
Thomas had drawn attention from a number of teams – most notably UAE-Team Emirates – over the spring, their interest encouraged by the fact that he had yet to accept the option of a one-year extension on his existing Sky deal, but on the eve of the Tour, he confirmed that he had agreed to remain put for 2018.
He clearly felt that Team Sky was still the best place from which to explore his potential as a Grand Tour rider, and the tacit understanding was that Thomas would be handed another opportunity to lead the British team in a three-week race in 2018, most likely the Giro. While the Tour has always been Sky's raison d'être, the team has used the Giro to develop young talent (Uran 2012), hand a loyal lieutenant an opportunity of his own (Porte 2015), or simply move an impediment out of Froome's way (Wiggins 2013).
Thomas' path to Giro leadership seemed all the clearer when Landa, to nobody's surprise, opted to leave Sky for Movistar, and it seemed - though it was by no means confirmed - that his 2018 racing schedule would be a mirror of the year just gone by. He would eschew the Classics and prepare for the Giro by racing Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Alps, and then use June to recover in time to help Froome at the Tour.
Froome's decision to tackle the Giro means that Thomas' 2018 plans will surely have to be redrawn. Sky's strength in depth means that, unlike Tinkoff during Contador's double attempt in 2015, they could potentially name two entirely different supporting casts around Froome for the Giro and the Tour. The Tour team will, as ever, be the stronger of the two, and Sky may well decide to withhold Thomas from the Giro altogether, and spare him to shepherd his leader in July. Perhaps he might even be permitted to return to a full cobbled Classics programme, and have another tilt at his beloved Tour of Flanders.
In theory, that scenario would at least leave Thomas free to race the Vuelta a España as team leader, although if Froome achieves the improbable and lands the Giro-Tour double, there is no guarantee that he wouldn't look to attempt the impossible, and line out in Spain too.
Such a hypothesis is most fanciful, of course, but one certainty is that the transfer window will have swung open by the time the Vuelta rolls around and Thomas will not be short of suitors vying for his signature for 2019. Just a few weeks ago, after all, Trek-Segafredo manager Luca Guercilena told Cyclingnews that Thomas was among the riders in his sights for 2019. "We've got some names we'd be interested in signing, and Geraint Thomas would be one of those riders for sure, but we also know how hard it is to sign riders from good set-ups like Team Sky," Guercilena said.
Richie Porte's performances at BMC over the past two years have shown that there is life after Sky, however, and Thomas will surely have taken note. He is only a year younger than Froome, after all, and can hardly wait in the wings for the Kenyan-born rider to tire of winning Grand Tours.
A window of opportunity is slowly easing shut, not least with the startling Gianni Moscon, a young rider with Thomas's wide range of skills – though, it seems, none of the Welshman's equable personality – already pushing for more freedom. Michal Kwiatkowski has made noises about one day trying his hand at targeting a Grand Tour, while Sky's new intake for 2018 includes stage race potential aplenty in the shape of Egan Bernal and Pavel Sivakov. Next man up.
When he signed his contract extension with Sky in June, Thomas hinted that he would consider a move to pastures new in 2019. "There have been a few teams that showed interest, which is always nice," he told Cyclingnews ahead of the 2017 Tour. "Certainly next year I'll be interested in listening to them." After confirmation of Froome's Giro-Tour double attempt, he will perhaps be minded to listen more closely.
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