Ask Geraint Thomas to sum up his season to date and the Team Sky rider is quick off the mark.
“Frustrating,” Thomas, an ambassador for the Etape Cymru sportive on Sunday September 8, tells RoadCyclingUK – and it’s a word which is repeated several times through the course of our interview. “I’m not superstitious but 2013 hasn’t been good for me.”
Thomas came into the year off the back of a 2012 season which saw him win a second Olympic gold medal in the team pursuit and, having refocused on the road, he hit the ground running in 2013 with a stage win at the season-opening Tour Down Under.
The 27-year-old then took up a key role in Team Sky’s Classics line-up, which sought to replicate the squad’s success in Grand Tours, but saw his campaign derailed by crashes in both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
It was a crash at the Tour de France, however, which caught the public’s imagination. Thomas fractured his pelvis after hitting the deck on stage one but rode through the pain barrier to not only complete the race for the fourth time, but also help Chris Froome to victory.
“It was frustrating that I didn’t get a chance to step up this year,” says Thomas. “I was climbing well at the Criterium du Dauphine and was looking forward to playing a similar role at the Tour, with me and Pete [Kennaugh] in front of Richie [Porte] and Froomey – but when I crashed all that was forgotten about and I went into survival mode.
Helping Froomey win the Tour de France is something I will remember forever
“It was pretty tough on the head – and the first stages in Corsica were the toughest days I’ve had on the bike – but I was fortunate that I was able to hang around and stay in the race. It was something I’d worked really hard for and I was going really well before the crash so I wanted to just keep on going and try my best to finish.
“By the last week I felt like I could do a decent job and I could start to enjoy it a bit more. To then get to Paris with Froomey and to have a British winner was something I will remember forever.”
Thomas is one of the most multi-talented riders in the peloton, touted as a winner of Monument Classics (he finished tenth in the 2011 Tour of Flanders while riding in support of Juan Antonio Flecha), one-week stage races (he claimed victory in Bayern-Rundfahrt in the same year) and, he believes, a potential leader at a Grand Tour.
“Next year the one week races are something I really want to do well in,” he says. “I want to be seen as a back-up GC guy and then to go from there.
“If it’s possible to be a team leader in a Grand Tour then I’d love to have a go at that but it’s something that’s a bit of a way off at the moment.”
The building blocks are there for Thomas to at least attempt to make the transition from track rider, to all-rounder, to Grand Tour leader. He undoubtedly has the engine and continues to improve when the road tilts uphill. It’s a road Bradley Wiggins knows well.
But Thomas denies he risks becoming a jack of all trades, master of none, by continuing to target a wide spread of races.
“It would be a lot easier if I was crap at one of them and was then able to concentrate on the other,” he says.
“But I do really enjoy the Classics. They’re something I want to do well in and I feel I can really step up at Flanders.
I would love to be the team leader at a Grand Tour
“This year, both Flanders and Roubaix were ended by silly little crashes that I couldn’t have done anything about. A lot of people have gone on about positioning but I don’t think there’s one bike rider who was in the first 10-15 through the whole Classics. I felt like I was in the best shape I have been but you’ve got to have a bit of luck and I definitely did have any of that. It’s just frustrating that nothing came my way.
“At the same time I want to start looking at the one-week races and to become a strong, reliable rider in the Tour. It would be easier if I did pick one thing but at the same time I’m really enjoying being able to race everything.”
For now, Thomas is enjoying just being able to ride his bike again. He saw a specialist two days after the end of the Tour de France, who ordered two weeks of complete rest to allow his fractured pelvis to heal.
“I’m slowly starting to feel like a bike rider again,” he says. “It was pretty tough going at first. At the Tour we were riding at full gas every day and so after stopping completely for two weeks it was tough to get going again.”
Thomas will return to the peloton on August 25 for the Vattenfall Cyclassics, before riding GP Ouest-France on September 1 and a series of one-day races in Canada to build form and earn selection for the World Road Race Championships, where Froome will bid to become only the sixth rider to win the yellow and rainbow jerseys in the same year – and the first since Greg LeMond in 1989.
Great Britain have qualified a full compliment of nine riders for the road race on September 29, which will take place over a hilly circuit in Florence, and Thomas, who played a key role in Mark Cavendish’s victory in 2011, hopes to be among them.
“Froomey is targeting the worlds and wants to go well there so that gives the rest of us the motivation so we can do a job for him,” he says.
“It also makes sense to go into the winter with some decent form so when you do start back your fitness isn’t as low as it otherwise would be.”
Victory for Froome would cap a remarkable year for the Tour de France champion, and would provide a fine footnote on a campaign blighted by bad luck, bad timing and bad crashes for Thomas.
But the Welshman is ready to take centre stage. Thomas is entering what should be the most fruitful years of his career and 2014 promises to be one of the most important of his career to date.
Geraint Thomas MBE is the event ambassador for the 88-mile Wiggle Etape Cymru cyclosportive, which takes place on Sunday September 8 2013: www.etape-cymru.