Geraint Thomas looks back on a great year for himself and Sky, and says 2012 could be even better
We catch up with Team Sky's Welsh ace at the end of his best season yet on the road
Geraint Thomas apologises for being late, but he has no need to make excuses – ever since formally opening the 2011 Cycle Show at Birmingham’s NEC earlier on Thursday morning, the Team Sky rider has been engaged in a whirlwind round of press, TV and radio interviews.
Following a hugely successful season both for the 25-year-old Welshman and Team Sky and with the London Olympics less than 12 months away, Thomas was always going to be the centre of attention at the show’s trade day, but the part he played in Mark Cavendish’s world championship victory last weekend ratcheted up the interest to higher levels still.
Nevertheless, the man who has been road.cc's expert in the peloton over the 2011 season - and who would have won you a few Fantasy Cycling points if you'd followed his advice - managed to spare us a few minutes to answer some questions.
And although teams haven't been announcd for the Giro di Lombardia yet, he had a couple of Fantasy Cycling tips about rider selection for that too, so look out for those here on road.cc very soon.
road.cc: At the end-of-season camp a year ago, Dave Brailsford and Sean Yates said they wanted to get away from the ‘One race, one rider’ focus on Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France in 2010. So, 12 months on, looking at the performances of the team this year, what’s the feeling within Team Sky?
Geraint Thomas: It’s been great, we’ve really stepped up from last year. It’s like a snowball effect. We started off well in the Tour Down Under with Ben Swift winning a couple of stages, he wasn’t even expected to do well there, and I think that set the trend for the rest of the year, with the younger guys coming through and getting lots of opportunities.
For me, it started off well there, and then the Classics went well, and that gave me confidence for the rest of the year. That core group we had – myself, Brad [Wiggins], Edvald [Boasson Hagen] and [Juan Antonio] Flecha – we were all together through from the Bayern Rundfahrt, which I won.
Then there was the Dauphiné with Brad and the Tour, working for Eddy [after Wiggins crashed out with a broken collarbone], the Eneco Tour, Hamburg… it’s like a roll on from the Classics, and then obviously the Vuelta.
It just spreads throughout the team, when you see your team mates doing well, you want to be a part of it. You’re racing with the same people for a lot of the year so you end up with three teams within the team and that success definitely gets spread around. Hopefully, with some more signings next year it’s going to be even better.
road.cc: So would it be fair to say it’s been a series of highs, rather than just one or two big moments?
GT: It was definitely a series of peaks, Brad winning the Dauphiné was the first big, big victory for us and having to defend that jersey was a major achievement. Then Edvald’s first stage win in the Tour was just massive for the team as a whole.
In the World Championships just gone, even though that wasn’t Sky, the core of the GB team was from Sky, and it’s great just to be part of that and to be growing with it, and hopefully that can continue.
[Our observation that the GB team might well have been seven Team Sky riders plus David Millar doesn't draw a response from Geraint, so if he does know about MarK Cavendish's plans, he isn't saying]
road.cc: It was a very intense last couple of kilometres, and after a rider managed to get between you and Cavendish, he lost your wheel and had to fight hard to get back in position to contest the finale. How did you see it?
GT: For me, I didn’t get a chance really to open up and do a proper leadout, I drifted back to see where Cav was and he was sat on Goss’s wheel, so it was a perfect position for him. Goss had four or five Aussies in front of him.
I could have gone past him and took him right to the front, but then I wouldn’t have made it to 150 metres to go, which is where he needed to start his sprint. I sat behind him for a bit, then once we hit the climb I just let it go and watched it on the big screen and celebrated when he won, it was a great feeling.
road.cc: And going by some of the British riders’ tweets the next morning, it was a big night out in Copenhagen?
GT: Yeah, definitely. Being the end of year, it’s always a big night out anyway and to have something to really celebrate as well, the way the team was it was just unbelievable, the whole team came together and we just showed how strong we are as a unit.
A lot of teams have a lot of good riders, but to be able to ride well all together is something else. I think it just shows all the work we’ve put in over the last three years, and it’s something that’s great to be a part of.
road.cc: Personally, you’ve had a great year – winning the overall in the Bayern Rundfahrt, second in the Dwars Door Vlaanderen, tenth in the Tour of Flanders, a week in the best young rider’s jersey in the Tour de France, points jersey in the Tour of Britain. So what do you take away from 2011?
GT: All of that I guess! Climbing well in the Tour and stepping up a level for sure, I really believe I can go to Grand Tours now and look to win stages, I believe I could have won one this year just with a bit more luck, so without a doubt, looking to go to the biggest races and come away with a result.
Even Flanders, in a few years’ time I don’t see why I can’t podium or win the thing. It’s something I want to do, it’s something that really motivates me and I love to race. Just to be in the front of it all is a great feeling.
road.cc: You’ve said that the Tour of Flanders is your favourite race, what do you think of the changes to the course for 2012, with the Muur-Kapelmuur dropped?
GT: I think it’s probably harder now as well, it’s a harder final few climbs. The Bosberg isn’t too hard really, but to go up the Paterberg again after 250k having done it twice before that is going to be hard for sure. Whenever you finish Flanders you finish completely empty and on your knees anyway so I guess that will be more different.
road.cc But next year the priority for you is London 2012 and helping defend the Team Pursuit title, so will you be looking at riding the Classics?
GT: I’m not sure, after my break we’ll sit down and decide it all properly. The Olympics is the main goal for me and I don’t want to jeopardise that in any way. Hopefully it will mean I get to do the Classics, but it might not turn out that way.
road.cc: Finally, thinking back to the Tour of Britain a couple of weeks ago, you had the crash on Stage 6 when you were lying second overall. On the last day, you wore the blue points jersey for the final stage, since overall leader Las Boom was in the gold jersey – but you ended up winning it outright, tell us about that.
GT: It was disappointing crashing and losing the GC that day, but we went into the last day and after the time trial the talk was still, ‘you can get the points jersey so you may as well go for it.’ The lads tried to lead me out but by then I was pretty tired, I’m not a sprinter anyway, but it was great to win a jersey in the Tour of Britain.