Thomas and Team Sky were expected to gain time on their rivals in the opening team time trial, race hard and limit any time losses on the queen mountain stage to Terminillo before hoping to pull back seconds in the final 10km time trial. Thomas eventually finished fifth on GC but without losing 1:20 to Quintana in the team time trial due to three front wheel failures, his Tirreno-Adriatico could have and probably would been a very different race.
"Waking up this morning it hit me, I could've been up for the win today," Thomas said as he cooled down on the rollers after is time trial ride. The normally easy-going Thomas was annoyed that the wheel disaster may have cost him a shot at the overall.
"Obviously, the race might have been different had I been closer, but I'm pretty confident that that if I could've had the time that I was behind him (Quintana) in the mountains going into today, then I would've been going for the win. I might not have gone for the win on the first stage, but then I could have had a bit more at stake later in the race. You just don't know. It's a big shame, because opportunities like that don't come very often and you need to take them when you can. That's the way it goes, isn't it."
The math backs Thomas' projection. He and Team Sky lost 1:20 in the team time trial. He gained 19 seconds while winning stage 2, lost 28 seconds to Quintana on stage 3 and then gained 25 seconds in the time trial. He finished 58 seconds behind the Colombian in the overall classification.
"I was fifth overall and I definitely could've been higher, that was nothing to do with form or legs, just bad luck – it's encouraging," he said.
"I guess you just have to look at the positives. It's been a real good week for myself and it shows I'm on the right track, and all that hard work I've been doing, it's been paying off."
Quintana would arguably have been more aggressive and gained more time on the Terminillo, but Thomas and Team Sky would also have ridden a different race. However, it was impossible pull back all of the 1:20 lost to Quintana in the team time trial.
"The TTT was just purely bad luck, apart from the fact that we are not going to use those wheels anymore…" Thomas said of the tri-spoked carbon fibre Shimano PRO wheels, one of which seemed to spontaneously collapse after Gianni Moscon hit a manhole cover and punctured. Diego Rosa and Mikel Landa also had problems, with their wheels apparently cracking after hitting potholes and manhole covers at high-speed.
Shimano took the damaged wheels away and have confirmed they are investigating. Cyclingnews noticed that some riders used Shimano front wheels in the final time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico, while others used what looked like unlabelled HED tri-spoke wheels.
"It's just purely bad luck and hopefully I can get all of that out of the way. I'd rather get my bad luck out of the way here or maybe in Catalunya, and have some good luck in the Giro. I'll definitely take that," Thomas said.
Learning how to race Quintana, learning for the Giro d'Italia
Thomas will stay in Italy for two days to see the route of the important Giro d'Italia individual time trial in Umbria. Snow permitting, he is also due to ride the Blockhaus climb in the central Apennines. He will ride the Volta a Catalunya later in March with Chris Froome and Mikel Landa. His final preparation for the Giro d'Italia includes a block of training and the Tour of Alps in late April, before a final recovery taper and the trip to the Grande Partenza in Sardinia.
Despite his Tirreno disappointment, Thomas left the Adriatic coast and began to focus on the Giro with more than just regrets.
He was the last rider to be dropped by Quintana on the 16km to Terminillo. Some of his Giro d'Italia rivals struggled or were hit by illness. Thomas was able to study Quintana close up and no doubt he and Team Sky will have garnered some precious lessons on how to react to the Colombian's searing attack on the climbs.
"It's encouraging to be close to Nairo and to be in front of the others at the moment, but it's a long way to the Giro, and especially into that last week of the Giro. I'm not taking anything for granted. Just keep working hard and see what I can do," Thomas said.
"I learnt that Quintana can go uphill pretty quick! He certainly goes when he kicks on a climb. Come the Giro, I think we'll ride a bit differently. I just need to remember that he is one of the best climbers in the world, if not the best climber. With hindsight I think I'd be a bit more conservative, just try to time trial it up and play to my strengths rather than jumping around for six kilometres isn't necessarily the best for me."
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