Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) is taking on uncharted territory this spring, as he tries to balance his general classification ambitions with his goal at the Classics. With cycling being such a specialised sport these days, it’s rare to see a rider combine such opposing targets at the same time.
A sign of the challenge he faces was his decision to abandon the Volta a Catalunya ahead of Friday’s stage so that he can recover for the Tour of Flanders next week. With no chance to tackle the cobbles under race conditions before Flanders, the team is in the dark about how this little venture will go.
“We will see. I think no riders are doing it. It’s a risk, but I think that it is a little bit easier with the change in course and doing the laps at the end. The type of racing is a little bit different, but we don’t know, we will see,” directeur sportif Servais Knaven told Cyclingnews at the start of E3 Harelbeke.
Thomas won E3 Harelbeke last season, his first major victory at a one-day race but his only presence this weekend was a short video message played to his teammates on the big screen. While he will have little focused preparation for Flanders, to deny Thomas a spot on the team would be to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“If he wants to do Flanders, it would be crazy not to take him to Flanders. He’s one of the best riders in the team and even without the best preparation, I think he can still be… We don’t know, he could be a surprise or he could be nowhere, we will see. If he’s not good enough to be in the final, he will be a good a good helper.”
The Welshman has long shown potential at in the general classification, and he lived up to that promise at last year’s Tour de France where he was in the top 10 until the penultimate mountain stage. His performance has signalled a change in focus for this season, and he has spent more time honing his climbing and stage racing skill.
“When you’re a little kid and you start racing, 90 per cent of cyclists want to win the Tour de France. They don’t talk about winning the Tour of Flanders, only maybe in Belgium. The Tour de France is the biggest race, and now G has found out that he can do really well in the Tour de France. He’s been making the transition in the past few years, and now he is making the final step and focusing more on stage racing.”
His switch in focus has reaped reward already with his overall title at Paris-Nice, holding onto the lead despite repeated attacks from Alberto Contador, and victory at the Volta ao Algarve. At 29, says Knaven, it was a case of now or never for Thomas and some sacrifices had to be made.
“We all know that G wants to perform in the Grand Tours. His heart is here in Belgium at the Classics, but it is also in the Tour de France,” said Knaven. “Life is not easy sometimes and when you’re as good a bike rider as G is you need to make decisions at a certain moment. I think that this year is the right moment because if you wait a couple of years, then it will be even harder.
“You have to make compromises at some moments, and we wanted to try and give him more stage races to prepare for the Tour, and Catalunya was one of those.”