Geraint Thomas: ready for leadership in Flanders
Last Friday the 28-year-old Welshman, Geraint Thomas, raced into the lead of the Belgian WorldTour race E3 Harelbeke. With four kilometres to go, he launched an attack that would ultimately net him a win in one of cycling’s Classics.
He’s been in action regularly since January and there are two more weekends with important competitions ahead of him before he gets some rest.
In part three of a trilogy of interviews with Team Sky riders from recent days*, Rob Arnold speaks to ‘G’ about the season so far, as well as the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the quest for a win in one of The Big Classics.
Click the Soundcloud file below to listen to the exchange and/or read the transcript below to hear what Geraint Thomas has to say a few days out from the Tour of Flanders.
*The Sky Files
Part 01: Richie Port on Catalunya
Part 02: Bernhard Eisel on Gent-Wevelgem
Part 03: Geraint Thomas on the Classics
* * * * *
Q&A With Geraint Thomas
RIDE: I thought we’d rip straight into it. Thanks for making the time. It’s been a big, big week for you, really. Or a big month actually. A big year…
Geraint Thomas: “Yeah, it started well with that win in Algarve and then going to Paris-Nice – and that was really disappointing in the end, I felt like I should have been [standing] next to Richie [Porte] on the podium, in second place. I’m not saying I should have won.
“I felt like I should have been there. A silly little crash and then that sort of ended that [hope, of finishing second on GC] and that was annoying but I still knew I had decent legs. And then last week, to win E3 [Harelbeke]. Then third in Wevelgem was a big surprise as well. So yeah, it was a super start to the year really.
“Two more big weeks now and then I can have a little break.”
I had a chat with Bernie [Eisel] yesterday and he was saying that it’s obvious what’s going to happen for Flanders [on Sunday 5 April] and that is that you’re the leader [at Sky] – absolutely and undisputed. It’s quite a compliment but how do you take that sort of pressure now, knowing that you can win a Classic?
“I think confidence is just high from last weekend and I’m just looking forward to it now. In a way the pressure is off a bit, having that win and a couple of decent results. I can just go in there and race hard and do what we can.
“Being the leader and having all the boys backing me up is a nice feeling and everyone is getting on well – everyone has good morale and stuff – so, like I said, I’m just looking forward to racing, just getting stuck in. And hopefully coming out with something.”
I wonder if you know the line-up for [Team Sky in] Flanders yet.
“I don’t actually. I think it’s similar to E3, but I don’t know the exact riders. But the core is the same with myself, [Ian] Stannard, Luke [Rowe], Bernie [Eisel], and I think Christian [Knees] and [Salvatore] Puccio.
“I think Brad [Wiggins] as well but I’m not too sure about the final couple of places.”
I guess that’s the one I was most interested in, how [Brad] might factor in because we know that Roubaix is his big quest – can it be a workout or is it best to try and not risk the things that can happen in a race like Flanders?
“I think it’s good to have that hit-out really. I think to just be in that zone, in that mindset, of fighting for position and being there in the team and in that sort of groove of racing because it is a lot different to other racing…
“As long as he’s ready for it mentally and stuff, I think he’ll be a massive help and I think a big hit-out there will do his confidence good as well if he has a decent ride like he did last year.”
For me Flanders has been a race where the ‘Muur’ always decided the event. And the last few years I’ve not been able to sort of get a real feel for it [because of the change in route that was instigated in 2012]. How do you see it being played out this coming weekend? The ‘new’ structure is difficult for me to get my head around because I grew used to the tradition of Flanders… how will you race it?
“I think it’s the second time up the Kwaremont really, that’s where the final sort of really starts and then we obviously do Patersberg and Koppenberg and that tough little loop and then you come back around and Kwaremont, Patersberg one last time and then it’s 15 kilometres to the finish.
“From the second time up is when the final really starts.
“When you hit Kwaremont and then there’s less than 25km to go, with 240-odd kilometres in the legs, it’s tough for sure and a lot of things can happen there.
“I think it’s just basically trying to save as much as you can; fuelling really well and then just being ready for that last sort of big 40km effort really. And, yeah… it’s all down to the legs then.”
We’ve got Cancellara out. Boonen is out. So it’s a big difference to your rivals even before the start list is announced. Who do you see as the main guys to watch?
“I think obviously [Etixx]-Quickstep is strong with [Zdenek] Stybar, [Niki] Terpstra and Stijn [Vandenbergh]. Sep [Vanmarcke, of Lotto NL-Jumbo], [Greg] Van Avermaet [of BMC] and [Jurgen] Roelendts [of Lotto-Soudal] seems to be there or thereabouts…
“The thing with Flanders as well is that you have 240-odd kilometres of real good racing roads – narrow roads, up and down, really technical and hard. And then the last 15 kilometres are on a big, double-lane road into the finish and it can definitely make it a bit more… well, similar to a sort of Gent-Wevelgem finish where everyone starts looking at each other if there’s a little group, or if there’s a team with two riders that can make a difference. So that’ll definitely add a little bit of something.
“With it being a straight run-in as well, for late attacks it makes it that much harder.
“I think being as fresh as possible, really, into that and also having team-mates as long as possible will make a big difference.
“Those sort of guys will be the main men, I think.”
Just before our call, I had a replay of the Harelbeke finish and I’d just watched the call of when you hit out ahead of Stybar and [Peter] Sagan [with four kilometres to go to the finish]. It was really pursuiting days coming back to you by the look of it.
“Yeah, it was. I wanted to catch them by surprise and just try and hit them hard and fast. Fortunately I still felt pretty strong and, like you say, it’s kind of like a big pursuit in the end – you know, that four or five minute effort. It’s obviously a bit different after 210km but fortunately I could still put the power out.
“Once you get a gap and you hold them off for that 30 seconds or a minute, they start to drop the head a bit maybe and that’s when you’ve got your chance… it couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Well congratulations on picking up your first Classic win.
“Cheers, thanks a lot.”
I wonder can we just go through a little bit of body detail? There’s speculation about a lot of riders’ weights – that’s a big topic these days. What are you at the moment and compare that with, I don’t know… can we talk about your neo-pro year and perhaps even last year and how you compare?
“I think I’m around 69kg now which is similar to what I was going into Paris-Nice last year but I managed to just keep it down, keep it a bit more consistent this year. I was maybe 70 last year in Paris-Nice – so a kilo lighter and just able to sort of try and maintain that a lot better.
“As a neo though, I was a lot bigger. I was riding the track and stuff and weight wasn’t an issue at all so, I don’t know exactly, but I would have been like easily – even at might lightest as a neo [with Barloworld in 2007] – around 72 or 73.
“As I’ve committed to the road and taken that a lot more seriously and looked at my weight a lot more and focus on that, it’s come down gradually since London  really. But yeah, I think that’s the biggest difference for me – that I can feel.
“Then obviously confidence as well as the results have come… it’s a nice sort of, what’s the word? Ah, the opposite of a vicious circle…”
‘A winning feeling’, I guess.
“Yeah, I guess so. Yeah.”
It’s happening. I spoke with Richie the other day and he talked about the Friday when he took the jersey in Catalunya, and then you win in Belgium, and Ben Swift wins in Italy… and apparently texts were going all around. It must feel great. It’s exactly what you’re talking about, ‘The opposite to…’ well, it’s a winning feeling.
“Yeah, definitely. The whole team sort of buzzes off it. When somebody is doing well the whole team at the race feels that as well. They go home and they train that much better – or whatever – and morale is high. And they see somebody else doing it in another [race] in another country, especially when it’s ‘Swifty’ or Richie who I’m pretty close with now and have done a lot with… the whole team sort of buzzes off it.
“It’s a good sort of snowball effect.
“Even Wout [Poels] who won in Tirreno and we’ve just got that momentum now within the team which is good.
“It’s a hell of a different to last year.”
Yep. A little bit of bad luck and different things but you’re still the top team in the headlines: you’re winning everywhere as we’ve just referenced. Do you imagine that, come what may this weekend, you’ll be on the road to Roubaix as well?
“What was that about Roubaix, sorry?”
Are you likely to be part of the line-up?
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there. I think Roubaix is a bit more crazy as well. A lot more can happen, you know. Punctures are a lot more easy to come by and crashes on the cobbles with bottles flying everywhere and stuff…
“There’s myself, Stannard, Brad, Luke, Bernie… I think we can all look to be going into the last 50 or 60km still feeling good hopefully and having those cards, I think, is going to play a crucial role really in the final there.”
We’ve seen pursuiters win Roubaix before. If I just think about [Stuart] O’Grady or [Niki] Terpstra… or guys with a heritage from the track. And now you’re talking about team-mates from the Beijing [Olympic gold medal winning] quartet – or at least one famous one, in particular – being alongside you. It could be quite a phenomenal finish to Roubaix. Are you excited by that prospect?
“Yeah definitely. I think, like I say, as long as we can all stay fit and healthy then it’s all to play for. It’s just exciting to be going into these two races with a real chance of doing something. They’re races that we’ve grown up watching on the tellie, you know – dreaming of just being in them, let alone being in a team that’s as strong as Sky and looking to win them.
“I think it’s just a great couple of weeks ahead really and I’m just going to try and really enjoy it. And, like you say, it could be a special day going into Roubaix.”
Particularly as it ends on a velodrome… we’ve seen teams take one, two, three, four before…
[Laughs] “Yeah, that would be nice but I’m not too sure about that one.”
But you recognise the history and you’re enjoying being part of it. And it’s a pleasure chatting with you ‘G’. You want to keep talking or should we call it a day?
“Yeah, I’m all good. I’ve got to get going. We’re on the bike in half-an-hour so I better get ready but yeah… cheers for that.”
Is there anything that you’d like to reference that I haven’t brought up?
“No, no… it’s all good.”
Well, cheers. Thanks for making it just so easy and I’ll pop it up as a post online soon and hope you share it around.
“Cool. Alright mate. Cheers, thanks a lot.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold