Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) continued his recent tradition of warming up for the season with a block of training in Los Angeles, California, from where he playfully misled his Instagram followers by tagging photographs of sun-drenched southern Californian seascapes with the names of rather less balmy coastal towns in southern Wales.
Then again, in Tenby as in Malibu, the tenets of pre-season training are more or less the same. This year’s purge came after a winter complicated by shoulder surgery and a bout of COVID-19 over Christmas, and Thomas arrived at this week’s Volta ao Algarve mindful that he is rather less advanced in his preparation than on previous, victorious visits to southern Portugal.
“It was nice to be back racing, it’s all about getting a good hard week in these five days really because I missed quite a lot of the winter with my shoulder operation and COVID and stuff,” Thomas told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 2 in Albufeira. “So I’m a bit behind in what I’d like to be or what I’d planned to be, but it is what it is. I’ve just come here to work hard, ride for the team and just enjoy being back on the bike.”
Thomas is reporting for his 16th season as a professional, 13 of which have been spent in the colours of Team Sky/Ineos. He is, indeed, the only rider to have been on the team’s roster for each year of its existence, even if his latest contract extension was only publicly confirmed in late December. The 2018 Tour de France winner had been linked with a possible switch to the now defunct Qhubeka-Assos team, and he acknowledged during the winter that the negotiations with Ineos Grenadiers had been the most complicated he had known.
In an interview with BBC Wales earlier this week, Thomas said that he was keen to “prove people wrong” by performing to a high level as he approaches his 36th birthday, though he downplayed the statement in Albufeira on Thursday. It was not, he said, aimed at anybody in particular.
“It was more the question was kind of a leading question, really, but it’s always the same: you always have doubters and you have always want to prove them wrong, basically,” Thomas said.
Tour de France
Thomas could be forgiven for having doubts of his own on the back of two seasons plagued by ill fortune. After missing out on selection for the pandemic delayed 2020 Tour de France, he was among the favourites for that October’s Giro d’Italia, only to crash and break his collarbone on stage 3. In 2021, he won the Tour de Romandie and placed third overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné only for his Tour to be compromised by an early crash. Weeks later, another crash prematurely ended his challenge at the Tokyo Olympics.
In 2022, Thomas is scheduled to return to the Tour, though his Ineos team will be without 2019 winner Egan Bernal, who suffered serious injury in a training crash in Colombia last month. It does appear that Bernal’s absence will cause Ineos to reshuffle their Grand Tour plans, with Richard Carapaz confirming last week that he is still building his campaign around the Giro. Regardless of his own role in July, Thomas is aiming to peak at the Tour, though he will look to race with adventure before then, including at the Ardennes Classics in April.
“I was planning on getting there [the Tour – ed.] in the best shape I could anyway,” he said. “In the lead-up to that, I’m just going to race every race and look to try to get what I can out of it and look to enjoy the racing. In the past, it was maybe a bit more controlled and every race was more for GC. Now I think it’s a bit more that sometimes I’ll go GC if I’m up there, and other times I’ll go for stages or help with lead-outs and all that kind of jazz. It’s like I keep on saying, just enjoying the race.”
Thomas won the Volta ao Algarve in 2015 and 2016, and he placed second overall here in 2018, but he has no general classification ambitions this time around, with Daniel Martinez the man designated to lead the Ineos challenge in Portugal.
“I don’t have the legs or the shape to do anything on GC, so I’m purely here to help the boys work hard and hopefully just improve from that,” said Thomas, who acknowledged that Saturday’s 32.2km time trial to Tavira was coming a little earlier in his season than he would have liked, particularly after his complicated off-season.
“I might have been [looking forward to it], but at the minute, not really. It’s just about taking each day as it comes, taking each day like a one-day [race] really. Generally we have someone who can perform well every day, so we’ll get behind them and go from there.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.