On Monday 21 January, Geraint Thomas told RIDE: “I want to have a good start to the year, do a good Classics campaign and then I’ll start chasing Bradley up mountains training in Tenerife.” The Welshman from Sky is keen to leave the velodrome behind him after twice winning a gold medal in the team pursuit at the Olympics and his 2013 season has started well. If you thought Sir Wiggo was the last of the British pursuiters to transform into a GC rider, think again. The rider they call ‘G’ is taking on the climbers and beating them at their own game.
There was a sense of anticipation surrounding a new innovation to the Tour Down Under’s race route for its 15th edition. “The Corkscrew” – it was talked about it at the course presentation in the middle of last year and the name of this climb was repeated often ever since. Short but steep it would give the climbers a chance to take on the sprinters and chase stage wins. That’s exactly what happened.
Yes, there was an early escape. Yes, it got reeled in by teams like Sky as well as Orica-GreenEdge, BMC and RadioShack. Yes, the climbers danced ahead of the peloton once the road got steep. Yes, there was Matt Lloyd off the front… followed by Javier Moreno and then George Bennett. And it seemed plausible that a collective like that would team up at the top for the quick downhill to the finish that was 7.3km from the top of the Corkscrew. But no, it didn’t continue according to that script.
Geraint popped out of the peloton, swept past Bennett and onward to the top on his own.
The new race leader finished off his work by timing his final sprint to the finish line to perfection. He beat Moreno by one second, claimed a 10 second time bonus and took over the lead of general classification.
It was only a matter of time before Thomas put his enormous potential on display. He was the youngest rider in the field when he made his Tour de France debut in 2007 but in five years he has transformed himself into someone who wasn’t certain if he could finish a Grand Tour, into a world-beating team pursuit maestro and a future that’s so bright that he shines in numerous directions.
Geraint Thomas has spent a considerable time down under for the Australian summer and is in good form for this race so it’s not really a big surprise to see him doing so well so early in the year. But there were a few shocks from stage two with the big one being the demise of the defending champion Simon Gerrans. The former Australian champion admitted that he didn’t have the power to match the pace of the quickest on Corkscrew and he is now “out of contention for GC” after finishing 61st in the stage, 2:36 behind Thomas.
Another significant incident that influenced the standings was a crash on the descent to Rostrevor which involved, amongst others, Lloyd, the world champion Philippe Gilbert, Jens Voigt, Jesse Sergent, Mikel Astarlozo, Blel Kadri, Bernhard Eisel, and several others. Two riders were taken to hospital for a “precautionary assessment” – with FDJ’s Arnaud Courteille suffering a possible broken nose while Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti may have a few broken ribs.
In the coming days, RIDE Media will publish an extract of the interview we did with Geraint Thomas earlier this week but for today, we’ll give the runner-up from the New Zealand championships, George Bennett, a chance to explain how he saw the final climb. And then we’ll let Bernie Eisel sum up his thoughts on the day when everything went according to the Sky team’s plan…
George Bennett: “Three of us are still up on GC…”
“The plan was for me to attack early [on the climb], exactly at that point and I had to go when I did. I went pretty hard and it kicked up a lot more than I remembered and I really went into the red and Geraint went past. I hooked on him but I was going deep so I thought I’d let him go and recover a little bit and then get on the next guy – a Movistar guy [Javier Moreno] who came through. We then caught [Geraint] pretty quickly but I heard that [Ben] Hermans was just behind me so I waited for him a bit. He’s a lot faster than me so I just had to pull suicide turns really and then I got to just over the one kilometre to go mark and no one else was going to come through so I just tried to keep it fast.
“When they kicked, I’d already maxed out.
“The boys rode really well. It was all about Hermans today. There was me, Hermans and Tiago [Machado]… and I just had the legs on the climb but I can’t sprint. That’s something I need to work on, for sure, but we were trying to get the win. Thomas was just too quick.
“It’s good for Hermans because we’re in a good position now: three of us are still up on GC [Hermans third at 0:07, Machado 10th at 0:14, and Bennett 11th at 0:14] and there’s still Willunga Hill and even tomorrow is hard.
“The climb was tough but we’re all in the same boat really. I have a bit of an advantage because I had the nationals last week but I haven’t been doing any real intensity training. I’m still racing like it’s January but I already had a race in my legs so for me it wasn’t as bad but I can imagine some of the European boys – coming over from winter – trying to get up that hill wouldn’t have been fun.
“The descent wasn’t too dangerous but I was really, really tired. I went really deep, put myself in the red-zone and had to hang on… normally I’m really good on the downhill but today I was terrible. I was just so tired I couldn’t think straight.
“I actually ended up being drifted off by one of the other riders on the corners and it stuffed all my rhythm up but once Hermans was on I just had to put my head down. He was yelling some abuse in my ear… or it was some friendly encouragement.
“To be honest, I was surprised to see Geraint there but it’s a short climb so I guess, in hindsight, it’s not so incredible.
“We wanted the stage win but we also wanted 10 seconds on the rest of the guys for Herman on GC. Me leading out meant we lost my position on GC but I’m still only a few seconds back so it’s worth it.
“It’s better to go all in for one than spread ourselves too thin. And Hermans has got the experience, he’s been good here before so we’re backing him.”
Bernhard Eisel: “Now we’ll see how special he is…”
“We said at the start, ‘Don’t be scared, we’ll ride today. Again.’ It was a short stage so there was no playing around. We tried to control the race and Orica-GreenEdge was on the same page from the beginning. BMC was the same. And even RadioShack… well, Andy Schleck was riding. And together it was easy to control the four guys up the road.
“We knew we had to speed it up for the last 30km and that’s what we did.
“When I swung off, I think we had it perfectly under control. ‘G’ won, I know that – so everybody is happy…
“After riding on the track and then switching over to the road and concentrating on the road, now we’ll see how special he is and what a talent he is.”
RIDE: On the climb, Geraint didn’t get out of the saddle. Could you imagine doing the Corkscrew without standing up at least for the hairpin turns?
“Oh, yeah… I can imagine it but I’m not the kind of rider who could actually do that. I just can’t do that. At the same time, even if I did this climb standing, I couldn’t go anywhere near the speed he is riding.”
RIDE: Could you tell in training that he had the potential to take the lead in this Tour?
“I hadn’t seen a lot of him this year. We caught up a bit in the last two weeks but before that we had a training camp before Christmas. He then came out to Australia for training and a small holiday. But already in early December we saw how strong he is and we heard that he was training well here.
“He’s doing well. We saw some of the numbers he was producing in training and we knew he was ready. I mean, just look at him: he’s half the size he was compared to this time last year. He’s ready.”
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