Ellingworth on Geraint Thomas: “These guys push themselves to the limit”
Rod Ellingworth has watched Geraint Thomas mature from a junior track cyclist into a leader of the Tour de France. We speak with the trainer about ‘G’ before the start of stage 15 of the 2018 Tour.
“I’ve known ‘G’ since he was a kid,” said Rod Ellingworth at the start of our chat about the leader of the 2018 Tour de France before the 15th stage. “I first saw him when he was 13 or 14 on the track, as a young lad, and I’ve been around him all through the junior period and then through his under-23 days, then when he moved on to the elite program on the track.”
Standing behind the Team Sky bus, there was plenty of activity, including a few calls from Dutch media for Dave Brailsford to have a chat. The Welshman, and principal of Geraint Thomas’ team, politely declined to speak on the morning of the race from Millau to Carcasonne but others were prepared to offer a few thoughts on the Tour leader after 14 stages.
Ellingworth admits that he put the Welsh rider though some tough missions during their time working together but he believes it has stood G in good stead for the challenges he’s faced since shifting his focus from team pursuiting on the track.
We talk about how resilient the 32-year-old is, and cover a range of other topics including how likely is is that the transformation from track rider to GC specialist could put him at risk of an eating disorder…
Ellingworth is now a consultant with Team Sky but the training duties for Geraint Thomas are now managed by Tim Kerrison. (For an interview with Kerrison after the stage to Alpe d’Huez, click here.)
– Click the SoundCloud file to listen to the interview and/or read the transcript below. –
Listen to our interview with Ellingworth: click the SoundCloud link above.
RIDE Media: As well as being physiologically gifted, [Geraint] is also a bit of hard nut, isn’t he? He certainly knows how to take a beating…
Rod Ellingworth: “Yeah, that’s what stands G out differently to others. He’s just got a good mentality and a really good, logical mind – not just in the way he thinks about bike racing, but just general life… he’s got a good balance in life. So, yeah… you could see that quite early from him, really, that he was that sort of guy.”
He seems to be a no-fuss guy. But he also seems to be someone that, say, the broader public would appreciate seeing in Paris in yellow…
Rod Ellingworth: “Well, you know, I think the thing is with G is that he’s a double Olympic champion and he’s pretty big in Wales, I think.
“When you see all the support from the Welsh fans, it’s pretty phenomenal really. But it has been since the start of this team. There’s been a hell of a lot of Welsh guys – or, Welsh fans, I should say – out on the street. I think he certainly appreciates that and he is sopatriotic.
“When you talk to him about rugby or something like that, he’s like, absolutely full-on with it. Yeah, he’s really patriotic, indeed.”
Upon the announcement of the team (at the end of 2009), the statement was quite clear: that [Sky] wanted to win the Tour with a British rider within five. You went and did that. But, given Sir Dave’s heritage, I wonder if it was view to priming a young Welshman for that role way back then…
Rod Ellingworth: “No, no – I don’t think so. We’ve been asked that question a lot.
“You can never tell who has got that ability. It’s a completely different ball game, isn’t it?
“But when they were young kids they were just really talented on the track and that’s where they first wanted to be. And that desire to be, you know, Olympic champions first – that was their first ambition, definitely. The they moved onto the road.”
Geraint Thomas on the Alpe d’Huez climb in stage 12.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
The Olympics is a big deal but in cycling terms, does it play second fiddle to this?
Rod Ellingworth: “I don’t know really. I think you perhaps speak to Ed Clancy and it’s completely different… or Steven Burke and those guys. They all grew up together with G and for them guys, I think it’s all about Olympic medals. And certainly for Geraint and all of them, they were really ambitious for that.
“I think they’re schooled really well in that Olympic environment, aren’t they? It’s all sort of… you can really coach them well and really progress people in that Olympic environment without any external issues.
“You know, without the sponsor side of things… there are few external pressures, if you like. You can really develop people at their own speed.”
You’re able to wrap them a little bit more in cottonwool, aren’t you?
Rod Ellingworth: “Well, that was a term people used to use and I was always against wrapping them in cottonwool. It was about getting them to learn the process and learn about how do you perform? Learn about sort of planning for yourself, performance planning – on and off the bike. And just learning that whole lifestyle around cycling, you know?
“I think it’s really important that they can do that.”
Someone told me a story the other night about you and G, where in an under-19 or under-21 race, he had a crash and he took skin off both of his hands and he basically had nothing left.
Rod Ellingworth: “Yeah, he’d taken a good bit of skin off.”
And the next day he was sitting in his tracksuit and you said, ‘Why aren’t you in your kit?’ And he said, ‘Well, look at my hands…’ And you said, ‘You don’t pedal with your hands.’
Rod Ellingworth: “That’s right, yeah. True story.
“That race finished up the top of the [col du] Glandon, actually, not far from where we were the other day. So it was a stage race in Chambéry, it was in the under-23s and I think ‘Cav’ finished them off the day before in the team time trial… so yeah, that’s a true story about G, yeah.
“Just the look on his face was like, ‘Oh, really…?’
“But, you know, he finished. And that was what I always try and encourage the guys: always try and finish the races, because every day it’s learning, isn’t it?
“Yeah, he’s a tough nut, yeah.”
…I have another little question about G. I wonder if you can talk to me about this: he’s spoken quite often about the biggest challenge being diet and eating. Is he a candidate for an eating disorder?
Rod Ellingworth: “You know, at the end of the day, these guys push themselves to the limit. And that’s it really, isn’t it? That’s what they do. So…”
He also said that even though he admired burgers from afar during the season, when it came time to eat one, he found it a little repulsive after a week or so. (Click here for an interview about diet and pro cycling from 2016.) It’s kind of interesting, isn’t it?
Rod Ellingworth: “As you mature, you change, don’t you? And you start to realise what happens and how you get good. And I think, this is where G has matured well. He’s serious about his job and he does a good job.
“I’m pretty sure they’d all like a good burger every now and again. But if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes, isn’t it? I don’t think it’s a… it’s certainly not a…
“What is it…? A problem? You know, an illness, if you like. I think it’s what they do, you know?”
It’s part of the chores of the job…
Rod Ellingworth: “It’s part of what it is, yeah. And they take it on well. They understand it, yeah. So it’s good.”
We’ve got another week to watch to watch the narrative of how the Froome/Geraint Thomas relationship progresses and if they continue to hold first and second.
There was also some comments yesterday from Bradley Wiggins that you told me earlier you know nothing about. So, we’re done with this interview and I’ll leave you with the stage. All the best.
Rod Ellingworth: “Nice one. Cheers.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold