One of Geraint Thomas' aims coming into the season was to develop his skillset as a week-long stage race rider and two months into the campaign his target received a welcome boost with the Welshman taking a stage and the overall victory in the Volta ao Algarve.
Thomas entered the race as a potential foil for teammate Richie Porte but on stage 2, the Commonwealth Games road race champion jumped clear to win in Monchique.
With the leader's jersey on his shoulders, Team Sky rallied around the 28-year-old and after he deposited a solid display in the following day's individual time trial – extending his lead as a result – Thomas' winter of hard work began to pay off.
"I knew that I was going well coming into the race but you never really know how everyone else is going," Thomas told Cyclingnews after sealing the overall win. "I'd done quite a bit of work after the Tour Down Under and I'd lost a bit of weight as well. I was just looking forward to getting stuck into the race and seeing what happened.
"I didn't expect it but to win that stage on the second day and then to pull out a decent time trial and keep the jersey was really pleasing. The overall win has been good for the confidence."
Although not a prolific winner, Thomas has made the week-long stage races a major part of his season. A crack at a Grand Tour is still a pipedream but races such as Algarve and Paris-Nice feature high on his ambitions before the Spring Classics return.
"I'm enjoying this position and I've led the team a few times now. I'm learning over time and to have someone like Porte riding for me as well, it was great to lead and then win. The second to last day was really hard. [Etixx-]QuickStep really gave it to us and attacked us whenever they could."
Paris-Nice will provide another test of Thomas' stage racing mettle in two weeks' time. Last year the Team Sky rider led the race but eventually crashed out with two days remaining. He will spend the next ten days training in Monaco and although Porte will start the race as the team's main GC threat, Thomas is looking forward to the challenge – both on a team and an individual basis.
"There are going to be quite a few decent guys and going into the race I'll be the back up and Richie will be the leader again. We've such a strong team perhaps I might be in the mix and then on the TT I might be able to get a little result myself but you never really know how things are going to pan out until you're at the race and you've got a couple of stages under your belt but I definitely feel like I'm getting better over time, and I've done some good work over the winter."
Two parts of that winter work are time trial training and weight loss - the former a necessity given the propensity of time trials in week-long races and the latter essential for Thomas' climbing.
"I've been riding my TT bike a lot more. In the last few years I've neglected that side of things after riding it so much on the track, and obviously weight is another thing I've worked on. I'm not too far off my Tour weight from last year, when I was around 68, 69 kilos. I'm probably around a kilo over that at the moment. That's been hard work and taken a lot of work but it's great when you see it chipping off and you see it bring you where you need to be."
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