Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) has established a well-earned reputation as one of the most resilient and talented riders in the peloton – but individual victories have been few and far between. That changed at the Volta ao Algarve with a stage win and overall victory.
The Welshman added his name to an illustrious list of former winners of the Portuguese race by soloing to victory on the hilly second stage, placing third in the individual time trial and then riding to fourth as team-mate Richie Porte won on the stage four summit finish.
Overall victory means the Commonwealth Games road race champion joins a star-studded roll of honour at the early-season race, which in recent years has included Michal Kwiatkowski – who went on to be crowned world champion after his 2014 triumph – Alberto Contador and Porte.
With the cobbled Classics on the horizon and Thomas clearly in good form having already tested his legs at the Tour Down Under and Dubai Tour, has the time come for the 28-year-old to become a regular leader within the Team Sky ranks?
On a day which also saw the team’s bona fide leader, Chris Froome, open his season account with victory at the Ruta del Sol, Thomas has proved he has the credentials to take on one of the team’s other starring roles in races which suit his all-round ability.
If he did, it would be a popular decision. Thomas has worked tirelessly on behalf of others and his efforts as a domestique have made him a fans’ favourite, not least thanks to his heroics at the 2013 Tour de France, when the man known simply as ‘G’ completed the race – riding in support of eventual champion Froome – despite suffering a fractured pelvis on stage one.
While Thomas has twice won the Bayern-Rundfahrt stage race, in 2011 and 2014, his victory in Portugal is significant thanks to the tough parcours and the calibre of riders he beat to the title, including world champion Kwitakowski, Vuelta a Espana King of the Mountains Luis Leon Sanchez and Spanish champion Ion Izagirre.
The win also shows Thomas’ strength across the board, escaping on the mountainous stage two to claim the leaders’ jersey and then defending it with strong rides against the clock on stage three and on the summit finish of stage four.
Thomas has been touted in some quarters as a future GC contender, despite admitting himself that he does not yet know where his considerable talent is best deployed. For now, however, his eyes are firmly on the Classics.
Thomas will continue his build-up to the Classics at Paris-Nice, returning to the race he so nearly won last year, wearing the yellow jersey early on and being very much in contention overall until crashing out, having been made team leader following Froome’s late withdrawal. The punchy parcours of the 2015 Race to the Sun is book-ended by two time trials and suits Thomas. If given the opportunity it’s a race in which he is likely shine once again and Team Sky should have the confidence to go to Paris-Nice with Thomas as their main man.
Then it’s time for the main event – the cobbled Classics. Most eyes will be on Sir Bradley Wiggins, who will ride his final race in Team Sky colours at Paris-Roubaix, but flying under the radar is what Thomas does best.
This is a man, after all, who has quietly amassed four stage race victories, a gold medal on the road at the Commonwealth Games, and become a genuine contender on the cobbles, to add two Olympic titles on the track.
Wiggins’ departure will open the door for a rider to step up to the top table at Team Sky and Thomas must be one of the leading candidates. His British team-mate, Peter Kennaugh, who has also started the season strongly having been visible throughout the Tour Down Under and playing a key role in Froome’s Ruta del Sol success, will also want to throw his hat in the ring, alongside any number of Team Sky’s talented climbers, including Mikel Nieve, or new signings Leopold Konig and Nicolas Roche.
Of course, Thomas would take time to grow into a leadership role, and both he and Team Sky would have to carefully select the races in which he is given those opportunities, but it’s time he is given the chance on a more frequent basis.
With victory in the Algarve now on his palmares, Thomas has proved he is in strong form ahead of a crucial period in his season, in which many will hope he can lead Team Sky to an elusive maiden Monument win. Third place at E3-Harelbeke and top ten finishes at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix raised expectations last year, and while one win does not make a season, success in Portugal ups the ante even further as Thomas’ status grows as one of Team Sky’s leading lights.
Volta ao Algarve 2015: general classification
1) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – 19.46.13hrs
2) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Etixx-QuickStep +27”
3) Tiago Machado (POR) – Katusha +1.11
4) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +1.14
5) Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) – Astana +1.18
6) Rein Taaramae (EST) – Astana +1.19
7) Segei Chernetckii (RUS) – Katusha +1.32
8) Alberto Losada (ESP) – Katusha +1.55
9) Ruben Fernandez (ESP) – Movistar +2.04
10) Ion Izagirre (ESP) – Movistar +2.21