Olympic gold medals and WorldTour victories are well and good, but if Geraint Thomas is seeking to broaden his palmares, the title of most laid back man in cycling is well within his grasp.
It’s an unofficial contest in which the supremely chilled Ed Clancy, Thomas’ team-mate in the men’s team pursuit squad with which both have become double Olympic champions, is perhaps his only real competitor.
Were Thomas disposed to playing the prima donna, today has provided the opportunity. He’s flown in this morning from Nice, worked his way through a schedule of interviews, and the time difference means that instead of the lunch break he was expecting, he has another interview to conduct. Mine. “No worries,” he says, with the air of a man who might need to consult a dictionary for the meaning of the word, so apparently alien to his nature is the concept of stress.
With the day’s newspapers filled with stories of rivalry between Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, the men he will ride for at the Tour de France in July, Thomas’ opinion seems one worth seeking. If there is an official line from Team Sky on the subject, however, Thomas is unaware of it.
Asked if the media noise surrounding Team Sky’s co-leaders effects him, he seems faintly amused by the question, and by the implicit suggestion that it could. First and second for his employers at a second consecutive Tour would suit him just fine, providing more money to split from the prize pot: he is not concerned by the order in which Froome and Wiggins finish. A story that raises cycling’s profile in a positive fashion is good news, he continues, a refreshing change from the doping agenda that dominated headlines last year.
Thomas doesn’t have an interview mode. We make small talk as the media handlers come and go, but when the interview ‘proper’ begins, it’s conducted in the same easy tenor. He’s here in the role of ambassador for the Etape Cymru sportive, one to which he is entirely suited, despite the obvious qualification of birth. While Thomas is from south Wales, his girlfriend is from the north of the country, and he has ridden the roads and enjoyed the scenery.
He is lean and lightly tanned, a Classics campaign of mixed results recently completed. Thomas suffered more than his fair share of bad luck, crashing at the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix after two impressive fourth-placed finishes at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Harelbeke, and concedes that it is in the gift of the Classics to end months of preparation in a split-second, a world away from the infinitely controllable nature of performance in the velodrome. The allure of cycling’s one-day races is one he relishes, however; the romance of the mud-splattered cycling hardman continues to hold his imagination. When this year’s Classics campaign ended, he says, he longed for one more race.
His next engagement is a training block in Tenerife, before he returns to racing at Bayern Rundfahrt and the Criterium du Dauphine. He admits to missing the experience of the Tour last year, and is looking forward to his return to cycling’s biggest race. The Tour is the Tour, even for a member of the world’s best road team. His efforts will be in service of Froome and Wiggins, but on a parcours as varied and challenging as that designed for the centenary Tour, surely there will be opportunities for a rider of Thomas’ all round ability? There are some stages on which he or Edvald Boasson Hagen might do something, he concedes, if the more pressing business of securing overall victory is under control.
The not inconsiderable consolation for missing a Tour dominated by his team came in the form on an Olympic gold medal, his second. The first, won at Beijing, was special, and he made an effort to savour the experience of the 2012 Games. A base in London allowed him to see some of it as well as compete, and he seems surprised still by the memory of being photographed leaving nightclubs.
The final subject of our conservation concerns Wiggins and his prospects of adding the Giro d’Italia to his palmares. Thomas needs little time to compose an answer. He is certain the maglia rosa is within the Tour champion’s grasp “if he puts his mind to it”. Wiggins’ ability to focus on a single goal is the aspect of his racing that appears to impress Thomas the most. Able to enjoy a joke his team-mates, Wiggins becomes serious and quiet when the task is at hand. Such seriousness will bring him his second Grand Tour in as many years, Thomas believes.
Business covered, hands shaken, we leave the office in which the interview has taken place, Thomas to find lunch, me to find the tube station. Thomas, clad in jeans and sponsor’s polo shirt, has taken matters in his (unexpectedly long) stride. Little seems to phase the Welshman, a modus operandi one expects will continue to serve him well.
Geraint Thomas is an ambassador for the Wiggle Etape Cymru, an event billed as the UK’s toughest closed road sportive, which will be held on Sunday September 8, 2013, and is operated by Human Race, the UK’s largest mass-participation sports events company. To see Human Race’s full events calendar go to www.humanrace.co.uk