Geraint Thomas has pulled out of next month’s World Championship road race in Australia, citing fatigue following July’s Tour de France as the reason for his withdrawal. The news leaves British Cycling with a decision to make over who should join Jeremy Hunt in supporting Mark Cavendish’s bid to become the first cyclist from these shores to emulate the late Tom Simpson as men’s world road race champion.
One option might be David Millar, already in the party to travel to Melbourne as the country’s sole representative in the men’s time trial. Like Cavendish, the Scot is currently racing in the Vuelta a España, which a number of leading contenders are using to hone their form ahead of the Worlds.
Certainly the Garmin-Transitions rider, who time trialling apart has evolved into a kind of super-domestique now he’s in his thirties, fits the profile of the type of rider who could help Cavendish overcome the handicap of a qualification process that sees Great Britain field just three riders in the event and put him in a position to go for glory should the 263km race from Melbourne to Geelong come down to a sprint finish.
With only a month to go before the race, the list of potential candidates to replace Thomas will presumably be narrowed down to those who have not yet begun to wind down their seasons, but the Team Sky pairing of Peter Kennaugh and Ian Stannard both currently racing in the Vuelta, may not have enough big race experience to handle the task.
Another possibility could be Hunt's colleague at Cervelo TestTeam, Roger Hammond, fourth in this year's Paris-Roubaix, and named as a reserve for the team's Vuelta squad ahead of the race starting in Seville last weekend.
In a Press Association report published on the British Cycling website, Thomas, who won the British Road Race Championship in June, said : "I'm not going to be riding because I haven't felt too good since the Tour. I had a bit of down time and then at Eneco I was struggling to get back into it.
"I decided to just pull out because I don't think I'll be 100% there so I thought it would be better to step aside and let one of the other guys ride who are going to be more motivated and going a bit better."
With a number of leading nations able to field nine riders each and others qualifying for six places, Thomas conceded that "it definitely limits Cav's chances, only having two guys to help him," but insists that it is premature to write off the HTC-Columbia rider’s prospects.
"He's just got to try to hang in there, " explained the Welshman. "He can look after himself a bit and he's got that respect in the peloton - people want to be on his wheel, rather than trying to fight him for somebody else's wheel. That's a big advantage for him."
Referring to an opening week of the Vuelta that has twice seen Cavendish narrowly beaten to the line in a sprint finish, Thomas said : "I'm sure he'd take a win if he could; I'm sure he's giving it everything. But I'm sure in the back of his mind it's all about the Worlds and it's all good training and preparation for that."
Missing the World Championships means that Thomas will have additional time to prepare for the Commonwealth Games, where he had originally been scheduled to represent Wales in the men’s road race.
Now that he no longer has to worry about the lack of recovery time between the Worlds and the track programme in Delhi, the 24-year-old is adding the 4,000m individual pursuit to his programme – an event in which last year he set the quickest time ever under current rules, at the time bettered only by Chris Boardman, who twice rode quicker in 1996 in the now-banned ‘superman’ position.
Thomas’s time of 4-15.015, set on the same Manchester track where Boardman set his record, was beaten earlier this year by the 21-year-old Garmin-Transitions rider, Jack Bobridge.
While the young Australian could only finish third in the World Championships in March, where the American Taylor Phinney took gold from New Zealand’s Jesse Sergeant, Delhi could see Bobridge and Thomas go head to head to decide who really is quickest in an event that to the dismay of many has now been dropped from the Olympic programme.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.