While the likes of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador make their way round the Critérium du Dauphiné with July and the Tour de France never far from the forefront of their minds, Geraint Thomas is planning to get fully immersed in the Tour de Suisse, going "full gas" to win the race.
The Welshman came second overall by five seconds last year, paving the way to a breakthrough performance at the Tour, which led him to place all his eggs in the stage racing basket for 2016 and beyond. This July has taken on greater significance as Thomas hopes to be a protected rider behind Froome at Team Sky, but the nine-day outing in Switzerland, starting on Saturday, won't be a mere training ride or exercise in resource management.
“I’ll be going full gas, emptying the tank, and getting the most out of myself,” Thomas told Cyclingnews.
“When you’re in a race you have to go full gas. I don’t go to races just to roll around, even if you haven’t got the condition to win you still turn yourself inside out – that’s just the way I am.”
Thomas has mixed emotions from the Tour de Suisse; he missed out on overall victory to Simon Spilak last year by an excruciatingly slim margin but it was a race that provided a ‘groundbreaking’ moment in his emergence as a stage race contender.
Going into the race, some feared the hors catégorie summit finish atop the Rettenbach Glacier would prevent him from contesting the overall. However, on his first long, steep, high-altitude climb as a leader rather than domestique, he put in a remarkable performance to climb with the best and finish fifth.
“I didn’t really know what to expect – I’d never raced at the front at a WorldTour race up a climb like that," Thomas said.
“It was ‘groundbreaking’, I guess, in a way. It gave me a lot confidence. It was a good day and I learned a lot from it. Hopefully, knowing the climb will help a bit this time around.”
It won’t just be the Rettenbachferner that Thomas and co will have to scale this year; the 2016 route is more mountainous than ever, with climbs galore in the second half of the race. In the final five days there are three summit finishes, a rolling time trial and a short 117km concluding mountain stage.
“It’ll certainly be a tough race and one that leans more towards the climbers," said Thomas. "But I’m just looking forward to getting stuck in, and obviously I’m there to try and go one better.”
Not that he should be fazed; Thomas went on to repeat those exploits at the Tour – where he was in the top 5 overall two days from Paris – and his training this year has focused much more on climbing, with more spells at Tenerife where “you’re going up a mountain every day".
Wins at the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice – where he pulled off a "massive" feat in beating Contador and Richie Porte – have confirmed Thomas is well on the right path with his new direction, and Suisse is part of the consolidation process. The 30-year-old might have been sent to the Dauphiné, where the bulk of Sky's Tour team is currently gathered, but he wants to grab each and every leadership opportunity he can get his hands on – and they’re not always easy to come by at Sky.
“I’ve raced a lot with that group of guys and I’m going to spend July riding with Froomey and it was a nice chance to go back to Suisse and ride for myself,” says Thomas.
“It was just about another opportunity for myself really. It’s all learning as well. Even if I don’t win or get on the podium, it’s all a good learning experience leading the team, especially racing for the GC up tough climbs, which I don’t get to do too often. So it’s all part of growing as a rider.”
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