Geraint Thomas: adjusting to life as a GC rider
Geraint Thomas has explained the challenge of losing weight – and keeping it off – as he shifts focus in his road racing career. He’s been an integral member of Sky’s line-up for the Tour de France for both of Chris Froome’s victories… and he expects to be alongside the defending champion again this coming July. Before then, he’s relishing the chance to chase a few stage race wins of his own. It started well in Portugal last week where he successfully defended his Volta ao Algarve title.
In the second part of our interview with ‘G’, we talk about the trappings of fame, why he believes it’s possible to be a relaxed ‘GC Guy’, if he can challenge for a Tour de France title himself, and what would have been of Geraint Thomas had he not been a pro cyclist…
Geraint Thomas interview: Part 01 • Part 02
– Photos by Graham Watson
Click the SoundCloud file to listen to part two of our interview with Geraint Thomas and/or read the transcript below.
RIDE: You obviously take your cycling very serious but do you ever think, ‘This is very trivial?’ Do you think, ‘Hang on, why are so many people putting such a big emphasis on bike racing when there are so many bigger problems in the world?’
Geraint Thomas: “Yeah. I said to some Belgian journalist [recently], ‘At the end of the day it’s bike racing – what does it even matter?’
“I’ve said, ‘Look, I’m here in Australia for the seventh time and I haven’t had to pay a penny for any of it.’
“It’s a dream for most people in the UK just to go to Australia.
“I think I’ve been here maybe 12 times all together with the Commonwealth Games and worlds and training camps and stuff, and it’s like – all this just from riding my bike! It’s just for bike racing. I still feel that sometimes.
“You get out and there are all these people who are really passionate and love it and I’m just there thinking sometimes, ‘What? It’s weird. It’s just a race…’
“Obviously people when they see their idols and heroes – and I can think back to me meeting people when I was like, ‘Wow…!’ But it’s strange because it’s not the real world is it?
“It’s not normal at all.
“You know, walking around the 10th floor [of the Hilton Adelaide] just in my robe having a massage and then going into some room with a coffee machine and everything laid out before me – loads of nuts and fruit and yoghurt… and I’m just standing there surveying the scene thinking, ‘This is not right. It’s weird.’”
And looking at it from the inside out, do you feel like you’re a zoo animal? I’ve seen you, for example, on the Monday after the Tour de France in Paris and that’s when you step out of the bubble and you’re back into ordinary life – walking around with your girlfriend – and I’ll stop you and say, ‘Hey G, well done…’ and you almost look at me thinking, ‘How do you know me?’ Are you still surprised by fame?
“Yeah, definitely. After this year’s Tour is was the biggest shock I’ve really had, especially back in Cardiff when I’m just in normal clothes… so many people recognise me now, it’s unbelievable.
“It’s weird when some of them are too shy to come and say just ‘Hello’. And then they Tweet you and say something like, ‘Oh, I saw you in Tesco but I was too embarrassed to come and say hello…’ or whatever. That’s just really surreal; it still feels really nice.
“I don’t think that’ll ever get old.
“Some people, maybe they like the whole sort of rock ’n’ roll image and want to be a bit like that but not me. I just genuinely like it, I appreciate it when people recognise me.
“It’s just a weird feeling to think that you give somebody else that doesn’t even know me or is related to me just as much happiness as Sar’, my wife, when I do well. It’s weird but it’s really nice as well.”
I know that Dave Brailsford, for example, was very keen to have you become ‘the heir’ of Chris [Froome]. When he gets older, you might come in and take over that mantle. But I’ve also heard it said that you’re so relaxed you’re almost lying down. Can you be ‘a GC guy’ and be relaxed?
“I think so. When I’m on the bike I’m not relaxed.
“I switch on when I’m on the bike and I’ve got my job to do and I know where I’ve got to be.
“At the Classics, you can’t be relaxed in there; you’ve got to be able to fight and be where you want to be and do what you want to do.
“But as soon as I’m off the bike it’s that whole thing: ‘It’s just a bike race.’
“Like you say, you look at the real world it’s just… well, like my cousin lost a baby a little while ago and stuff like that really puts things into perspective then.”
Can you imagine it being the case when you are fighting for a yellow jersey at the Tour or were those days of hovering around fifth or sixth on GC [at the Tour in 2015] just a matter of circumstances all leading to the position you found yourself in…?
“I think I’d love to, that’s the goal: to be in a position to be able to win the Tour. I think, ‘Why not?’ Shoot for the stars, or whatever they say – have those big ambitions.
“It’s a big learning year for me. Week-long stage races wise, when it comes to hopefully taking a [leader’s] jersey one day and dealing with everything around that that involves… you know, the media side and all this and that, the testing and just getting back to your hotel half and hour later than everybody else.
“There’s dealing with all that and then dealing with the team and communicating with team-mates – there’s a lot to learn and I’ve had quite a bit of experience dealing with that now, but hopefully I can do more.
“Those week races are where my chance to really perform and do well exist. Then I’ll go to the Tour [de France] in the best shape I can be and anything can happen in a three week race: a silly little crash or sickness, injury… Just getting there in good condition.
“But I’m really excited and I think Sky is the best place I can sort of learn all that. And obviously, being with Froomey a lot of the time – training a lot with him, racing a lot with him – and seeing how he deals with the media… you know: none of it really gets to him and he’s so aware of what people are saying which is what was the most impressive thing for me.
“I just don’t even go on Twitter and stuff.
“I don’t read, no offense, loads of articles or blogs or something…
“I just stay away from it and get in my own little world.”
There could be 100 compliments but it’s the one bastard that gets you down.
“For sure, yeah!
“But [Chris] is aware of every single bastard out there. And it doesn’t even phase him, well he doesn’t show it anyway. Then he uses it in the right way on the bike. That’s a massive strength, that’s the thing I’m most impressed about with Froomey, for sure.”
A lot of instant-experts or people who are observing from a distance can offer opinion now. And I guess that’s something that you’re trying to avoid. Like a lot of people would be saying, ‘Come on G, you can go and win Paris-Roubaix…!’ Or, ‘You’ve done well in the Classics, why don’t you go for Flanders?’ But can you be a Classics guy and a GC guy – or do you have to categorise yourself?
“I think you can be to an extent but I don’t think you’ll ever be as good as you could be in either. So that’s why this year I’m going down that stage racing route.
“I’m going to do [Volta] Catalunya instead of GP E3 and Gent-Wevelgem. And I’m going to drop in and do Flanders anyway – just because I can’t miss it! And I think Catalunya might even be better preparation for it.
“The only thing I won’t have is that style of racing; it’ll just be fly straight into Flanders and do it.
“E3 has been my first race a lot of the time; it’s only a week before [Flanders] and it’s just as intense but… I’ll skip it this year.
“Then we’ll go to Teneriffe [for a training camp] and then Liège-Bastogne-Liège and then [the Tour de] Romandie.”
And then Mont-Saint-Michel… more or less. It’ll happen quickly won’t it? When you break it down it’ll be July before you know it. Does the season go a lot quicker for you now?
“It’s unbelievable. This is my 10th year as a pro this year and I can’t believe how fast it has gone, it’s crazy.
“Like I say, I still feel like as if I’m learning a lot.
“I think that diversity in the seasons helps. I haven’t done too much of the same thing all the time, like maybe Stannard would have. I think that keeps it fresh and it keeps me motivated and keen – certainly now, with the whole stage racing angle, it gives me some real sort of drive. I’m super excited for it.”
When did you get married?
So do you imagine that you might be making a family soon?
“Not for a while, she’s a bit younger than me – she’s 25. And we spent a bit of time with Stannard and his baby here [in Adelaide during the Tour Down Under] and that’s put me off. It’s hard work!
“So I think it’ll be a good two or three years of just enjoying being married and getting stuck into some bike racing and then we’ll see…”
It was a leading question… because, after the experiences that you’ve had in your life – and whatever happens from here is interesting – but would you say to your children: ‘You should aim to ride a bike for a living.’
“I don’t know. I think I’d never want to tell them what to do actually. My dad never did; he let me do a load of sport and just let me choose on my own. I’d never push them into anything.
“For sure I’d want them to be able to ride a bike and get them riding a bike early and whatever [and] if they want to go down to Newport Velodrome then that’d be great but I’d never push them into anything.
“I think sport though, for sure… I’d want them to be into sport.
“It just gives you so much! The discipline…
“When I was in school revising for exams, because I was having to train and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m riding my bike this evening…’ or whatever, I had an hour window to do any work. If you don’t do it, it’s not done and so I think it gives you that discipline and a little bit more structure.”
What would have become of G without the bike? Would you have been a lark? Would you have been a larrikin?
“I don’t know. I probably would have gone to uni and done something like physiology or something related to science because I’ve always been interested in that.
“I’d certainly be going to all the Six Nations games and stuff like that which I don’t get to do now.
“The Lion’s Tour, that’s the big one on my list for when I stop.”
So you’re still a rugby man?
“Yeah. I want to go to New Zealand because obviously I’ve been to Oz, but I’ve never been to New Zealand before. That’s the goal.
“And I want to do an Ironman: 100 percent, I’m going to do one of them.”
Oh yeah? You can swim and you can run?
“I used to be a decent swimmer when I was 12 or 13 so I’m sure if I did a bit it would all come back – to an extent.”
Is that a ‘retirement plan’ or something you’re going to do when you’ve still got pro cyclist fitness?
“Yeah, and I think it’s like I said before about having that goal and something to really go for: I’d love to do that.
“When it comes to hopefully trying to start up a business in the UK with my wife… it’s kind of strange when those thoughts come into your head about retiring because I’ve still got time. I said in Cycling Weekly a while ago, ‘I could go until I’m 40, for sure…’
“It’s just all in your head. If you can get up in the morning and you want to train and stuff, you can just keep doing it – 100 percent.
“Look at Jens [Voigt].
“Chris Hoy was 36 at the London Olympics. They say you get slower with age and he just proved that wrong.
“It’s all in your head, what’s going on around… if you’ve got kids and you don’t want to come to Oz for a month and not be with them – and all that type of stuff.
“But I’ll certain keep riding for as long as I can.
“Maybe just one day I’ll wake up and just be like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do it anymore – I don’t want to hurt myself anymore.’ But hopefully that’s a way off yet.”
It’s like that fantastic story that you shared with me a few years ago about your first Tour de France and how Robbie Hunter was telling you how you could get through it – and talking you into it. There was one instance when you dropped the wheel into front of you and you were shagged and you said, ‘That’s it: I’m out.’ That could have been the moment that changed everything really.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think getting through that day – well, getting through that Tour [in 2007] it was just like… I’ve got to think back to then whenever I think I’m tired. And I’ll be like, ‘I’m not tired! Not compared to what I was then.’
“That just gave me so much confidence as well really.
“Obviously, I was a track rider and I was racing on the road. To have had a Tour and gone to Paris was huge really. It was something to dream about.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold