Geraint Thomas insisted he hadn’t put pressure on himself, but there was nevertheless a sense of relief as he clinched the Tour de Romandie title to win a bike race for the first time since he rolled into Paris as Tour de France champion in 2018.
The Welshman might well have raised his arms 24 hours previously, but he more than made up for that bizarre crash atop Thyon 2000 with a strong ride in the final time trial to divest Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) of the yellow jersey.
In doing so, he brought a curious barren spell to an end. It’s not like Thomas has been in the wilderness since he lifted the Tour trophy – indeed, he finished runner-up the following year – but he has struggled for momentum.
He was anonymous for all of 2019 apart from that second place, and in 2020 he was so far off the pace he didn’t make Ineos’ squad for the Tour. He bounced back to finish second at Tirreno-Adriatico but crashed out of the autumn Giro d’Italia after hitting a stray bidon.
"As we all know, bike racing is about winning," Thomas said. "It’s not like I haven’t performed since I won the Tour. I’ve been up there, but it’s nice to finally get the win and break that sort of duck.
"It's my first win since being a dad as well, so that's nice," he added.
Following the frustration of that Giro exit, the Tour de Romandie is the latest evidence that Thomas has hit a rich vein of early form in 2021, in stark contrast to last term. He wasn’t at his best at Tirreno-Adriatico but has certainly been close to it ever since, placing third behind two teammates at the Volta a Catalunya before arriving in Switzerland this week.
In the decisive stages he was second in the opening prologue and third in the final-day time trial, while his third place at the Thyon summit finish should have been better after he breezed clear of every rider but Woods on the long climb.
"At the start of the year my goal was the Tour and every race was a build-up to it. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to perform early but I seem to have come into some good shape pretty soon," Thomas said.
"I’ve had some good races building up to this - obviously Catalunya was really good for the team, and I was third behind two teammates which was amazing to be a part of."
A similar scenario played out at Romandie, where he was part of a prologue podium sweep alongside Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte, and then part of a one-two on the final podium alongside Porte.
"Me and Richie came here wanting to win the race with one of us, and now we’re first and second, so can’t complain," he said.
"I knew was going well. I’ve done a lot of hard work, spent a lot of time away from the family. I really wanted to make it worthwhile, and I’ve certainly done that."
With the yellow jersey on his shoulders and a number one back on his palmarès, Thomas can start to look ahead to the Tour de France with increasing confidence. He'll head home for a break before an altitude camp in Tenerife ahead of the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour de France.
"It's been a good year so far - every race I felt was getting better and better. All I can do is focus on what I'm doing and trying to continue to improve and go to the Tour in the best shape I can."
As for that crash, he already saw the funny side as he photoshopped himself scoring a try for Wales, but can now put it firmly in the past.
"I definitely wasn’t laughing the first hour or two after – I was pretty angry – but once it’s settled in, you’ve got to laugh at it really," Thomas said.
"You either laugh or cry, and it’s a lot better to laugh, isn’t it."
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