'Geraint Thomas is going to the Giro because we think he can win' says Kerrison

Team Sky coach Tim Kerrison is adamant that Geraint Thomas has what it takes to win this year's Giro d'Italia. 

The bold claim comes a month after the Welshman confirmed that he would target the maglia rosa in his first attempt at riding GC at a three-week race. Thomas finished 15th in the last two editions of the Tour de France while riding in support of Chris Froome, but the Giro is his first opportunity to fully commit to riding for himself in a Grand Tour. He will share leadership at the race with teammate Mikel Landa, but Kerrison believes that the timing was right for Thomas to have his chance.

"We sat down at the beginning of December and the sports directors responsible for each of the Grand Tours presented what they knew about the routes," Kerrison told Cyclingnews in a recent phone interview.  "We went through them stage-by-stage and looked at the demands. At the end of that meeting I asked them, 'out of everyone in the peloton, and in our team, who is best suited to this Giro?' Other than Chris, obviously, Geraint was the next name that came up."

Thomas's long-term aim is to challenge at the Tour de France. In order to reach the point where he can consider a leadership role at the race for Team Sky he must perform at the Giro d'Italia. Team Sky's history at the Giro d'Italia does not bode well for the ambitious all-rounder. Bradley Wiggins, Richie Porte and Landa have all tried and failed to lead the team to success in the race, while Rigoberto Uran's second place in 2013 only came after Wiggins abandoned.

"We'd love to be better in the Giro. We've got Pinarello, Sky Italia, and Castelli, who would love us to be more competitive. Other than Uran, when he was second, we've not been as successful as we would have liked. We prioritise the Tour above all else in terms of recruitment and selection. In doing that there’s always going to be a cost for events that aren't in our Tour stream. But we think that we've got a strong enough team to have a good crack."

How Thomas stacks up against the likes of the Giro's defending champion, Vincenzo Nibali, Astana's Fabio Aru or former winner Nairo Quintana, is somewhat of an unknown. The main pre-race favourites have all won Grand Tours but Thomas has yet to experience the luxury of leading a team at such a level. Whether that is down to the fact that he shares a team bus with Chris Froome or because he isn't quite of the same calibre as some of his rivals is one of the biggest questions surrounding his chances this May. Kerrison, however, is clear in his belief that Thomas can succeed, and while most of the pre-race predictions have looked at a top-ten or top-five placing as being a success for Thomas, his coach thinks that he can go all the way.

"We go into every race trying to win so winning would be success. We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think he could win," he said.

"What we know is that when he's at his best he's a great climber and he's already a great time trialist. We know that the biggest challenge will be the third week but that's the same for everyone."

"We've seen his progression over the years from where he's moved from focusing on the Classics and being a support rider in stage races. He's shifted his focus to be more competitive in stage races. He had a hybrid year in 2015, winning E3, finishing high up in Gent-Wevelgem but he was also second in Paris-Nice, second in Tour de Suisse and last year he focused more on stage races and won Algarve and Paris-Nice. He's done a great job as a support rider in the Tour de France over the last couple of years. He recognises that when he's in great shape he can climb with the front group most of the time and he's a good time trialist."

Supporting Brailsford

While Kerrison has concentrated on preparing his riders for the campaign ahead, the off-season has undoubtedly been dominated by the stories surrounding Team Sky's TUE use, and primarily Bradley Wiggins' use of TUEs before three major Grand Tours between 2011 and 2013, along with the contents of a medical package sent and administered to him at the Dauphine in 2011. There is currently a UKAD investigation into alleged wrongdoing between Sky and British Cycling and while Kerrison would not be drawn on the specifics of the matter, he rallied behind Team Sky boss, Dave Brailsford. There have been calls, in the media at least, for him to step down from his role but when asked if he backed his boss, Kerrison gave a stronger endorsement.

"It's not the right thing to do, to comment to the media while the investigation is still on going but I've worked very closely with Dave during the duration of the team. I've never had any reason to not believe in his leadership at the team. There's a lot of speculation obviously at the moment about the issues and who knew what but while it's under investigation it wouldn't be fair of me to go by anything other than my experiences of working with Dave. He's a great leader and he's been a great leader of our team. He will continue to be, for sure."

Froome's double attempts

As well as coaching Thomas to the Giro, Kerrison is also tasked with ensuring Froome is in the best possible shape for the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana double. Froome has finished second on three occasions at the Vuelta and Kerrison admits that while the Tour remains the main focal point of the season, more can be done to ensure that Froome arrives at the start of the Vuelta in better shape.

"With Chris, what we've never got quite right is the period between the Tour and the Vuelta. We sort of know what we need to do but it's actually doing it that's another matter," he said. "With the Olympics last year it was tough. The first year he did the double was in 2012 and we had London then. In 2013 he didn't do it. In 2014 he crashed at the Tour, in 2015 he crashed out of the Vuelta but we didn't quite optimise that period in between. He's come second that many times in the Vuelta that he really wants to get it right."

"We've mapped out what we want to do in that four-week period with a block of recovery, maybe some crits but making sure he's recovered from the Tour. Then we'll go to altitude for a bit to do some training."

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