After several years of riding the Tour de France in the service of others, Geraint Thomas is ready to embark on the next phase of his career, with the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana both viable options in 2017. As the 30-year-old tells Cyclingnews from his home in Monaco, next year is all about specialising in one single area of his broad skill-set and, most importantly, taking a risk with a new race programme and new set of challenges.
"With race schedules, that's something that I've been chatting about with the coach, Tim Kerrison, and it's something that we'll go through properly when I'm at training camp," Thomas says ahead of Team Sky's Mallorca get-together next week.
Part of Thomas's dilemma lies in the fact that he is so adaptable – a characteristic that can be seen as both a blessing and a curse in a modern-day peloton so dialled in on specialisation. From the Tour Down Under to the Tour of Flanders and the cobbles of Roubaix, to the Alps and the Pyrenees, the Welshman's ability and broad skill-set allows him to ride with the best over a range of terrain.
"There's also the Classics, and I still love them. I'd hate to miss them but at the same time I think I just need to pick one thing and go for that over the next two or three years."
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This season saw Thomas reduce his Classics load and focus more on stage races. The plan worked during the first few months of the season but he ran out of steam in June with a disappointing Tour de Suisse. He rallied during the Tour and, although his ride went under the radar compared to 2015 when he sat inside the top ten for most of the race, he still came away with the same result in Paris.
"It's a tough one because I'd love to race Gent Wevelgem and E3 and then go and do Flanders and Roubaix but I just feel like I want to have that one goal, and that one target and then go for it 100 per cent."
A race to lead at the Giro d'Italia
Thomas isn't the only Team Sky rider who has mentioned the Giro d'Italia as a possible aim next season. Landa and Woet Poels have also put their hands up as potential candidates to lead the team.
The Italian Grand Tour, however, is a graveyard for Sky rider's ambitions with Landa, Richie Porte and Bradley Wiggins all falling apart at the race despite their pre-race billing as major contenders. Thomas is well aware of the team's recent history in Italy but, with Froome overshadowing the Tour and also considering a tilt at the Vuelta, options are limited in cycling's richest team.
"With the Giro the route can be different, the weather can be bad and there are a lot more variables. Also there's the whole lead up of races and training camps. It's totally different."
'I want to believe in Wiggins'
While Thomas has enjoyed a lengthy off-season with a schedule of weddings and charity dinners marked in his diary, his team and his former leader, Bradley Wiggins, have been dogged by negative headlines surrounding the former Tour winner's controversial TUE use on the eve of three major races between 2011 and 2013.
"Obviously Brad didn't break any rules at the end of the day but the ethical stance is a lot more of a grey area. It's up to people to make up their own minds about what he said and if they want to back him. It has been strange because it feels like Team Sky is my team too and to see it come under so much fire… it got to the stage where it felt like anything and everything was being turned against the team.
"It wasn't very nice but at the same time I didn't read too much into it. I've not read any cycling stuff in the last couple of months anyway but I think Dave's [Brailsford] admitted anyway that he didn't handle it very well initially, that's for sure, and that certainly didn't help.
"The main issue is with the TUEs in the first place. If someone has asthma and it affects their performance by five per cent and then they take a drug that helps them 10 per cent, how do you measure that? That's a tricky one. I've known Brad since 2008 and he's always been straight and done things the right way. He's always looked for advantage in things you eat and that whole marginal gains stuff but it's a tough one.
"I want to believe him. He's someone I've always grown up and admired really. He's always been ahead of me, so he won junior worlds, which I wanted to do when I was a kid. He turned pro, went to the Olympics, won medals, rode the Giro and the Tour, so he's always been the guy who did it four or five years before me. It's not a good place for him to be in at the minute."??
While the story over TUEs rumbles on – there is a UK Anti Doping investigation and Brailsford will appear in front of members of the British Parliament later this month – Thomas is focused on the only thing he can affect: his racing and his career. And while the majority of next year's schedule has yet to be confirmed, he at least knows where he will open his season.
"I'll start in [Tour] Down Under and head there on January 2. I'll get in a good month block and set myself up for the year. I feel like that really works for me."
Whatever Thomas has done in the past has clearly worked and moved him to the brink of breaking through as a three-week race contender. However, if he is to embark on the next stage and move into the unknown, he is right, he needs a new challenge.