Six of the Best: Geraint Thomas picks his most memorable races of 2011 (+ videos)
Team Sky's Welsh ace looks back on his own successes this season, and the part he played in others' wins
As road.cc’s pundit in the peloton for our Fantasy Cycling game, throughout 2011 Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas has looked forward to predict how the year’s big races might turn out; now, however, with the New Year almost upon us, we’ve asked the Welshman to think back over the past season to tell us his most memorable races of the year.
At 25 years of age, Thomas is entering the prime years of his career, but he already has an Olympic gold medal in his possession, and helping defend that team pursuit title for Great Britain is his principal goal in 2012.
This year, which he began in the British national champion’s jersey, Thomas showed just why he is tipped as a future Classics winner with second place in the Dwars Door Vlaanderen.
A couple of weeks later, there came confirmation that he can potentially challenge to win the race that thrilled him most when he was growing up, the Tour of Flanders. Then, in May, he picked up his first major pro win on the road in the Bayern Rundfahrt.
But several of the races Thomas has picked as being particularly memorable in 2011 underline that while it might be an individual’s name that goes into the record books for winning a race, there is always a team behind them that made that victory possible – and being part of that team is a role that he clearly relishes and enjoys, taking great satisfaction in their achievements.
So, over to Geraint to let him talk us through why each of the races shown below in date order made his list – and let’s hope for more memorable days in the saddle for him in 2012, not least Friday 3 August, the day of the Olympic team pursuit final.
Wednesday 19 January 2011
Tour Down Under Stage 2
Ben Swift took the second stage of the year’s first big race, on a day that held both good and bad memories for Thomas, as he explains.
"The first one is my big crash in the Tour Down Under in the stage Swifty won. CJ [Sutton] was our sprinter but he crashed with 3 kilometres to go, so it was down to Greg [Henderson] then, but he lost my wheel as I was leading him out.
"Swifty was in front of me, so with about a kilometre to go I popped around him and shouted across that he was sprinting, he was a bit confused at first, shouting across, ‘What? What?’ but he realised as I started leading him out with 200 metres to go and finished it off nicely.
"But with 180 metres to go, I had a big old crash. It happened very quickly, I just hit the deck and I was lucky not to break anything, it was a WorldTour sprint so we were going pretty fast.
"That day was one of the highlights, seeing Swifty do so well and the team having a different plan and thinking on our feet, when it’s not going our way, moving to a Plan B. I think it showed everyone was on a similar wavelength and it was great to see Swifty get that first win, and it was great to be a part of all that."
Sunday 3 April 2011
Tour of Flanders
The race seemed destined to turn into a two-way battle between Sylvain Chavanel and Fabian Cancellara, who had bridged across to catch the Frenchman, but a small chase group including Thomas, who would finish 10th, made the catch on the climb of the Bosberg before Cancellara and Chavanel went again, only to be outsprinted for the line by Nick Nuyens.
"Coming into the finish with Cancellara, Boonen and Flecha… There were about ten of us and to be in that position with 3 kilometres to go, and to actually be in with a shout of winning, even though I was working for Flecha, looking back, I could have raced it differently, but it was great to be in that position.
"I’d been riding strongly all day and having grown up loving that race it was great to be in the thick of it all the way to the end and it was good for my confidence as well, and the fact that the training I’d been doing over the winter proved to be the right thing to do. It also set me up for the rest of the year, I think."
25-29 May 2011
HTC-Highroad’s Michael Albasini and Thomas lay respectively first and second overall after finishing Stage 3 in that order, and the Welshman overhauled the Swiss rider by putting in the fifth fastest time on the penultimate day’s time trial, won by Bradley Wiggins. On the final day, Thomas rolled over the line near the front of the bunch to claim his biggest win as a pro.
"I went in there wanting to do something and knew I had a bit of a chance with the team. It was great to have decent form and to be able to race it well, to put myself in that position and do a good time trial, which put me into that position, and the rest of the team finished it off for me.
"So to get that first big pro win, in a stage race, it’s a pretty high standard race and one of the only big races left in Germany, it was good for the morale and confidence."
Thursday 7 July 2011
Tour de France Stage 6
Tour organisers ASO threw some tough finales into the opening week of this year’s race, including the Stage 6 finish in Lisieux that saw many of the usual sprint suspects dropped as the road headed uphill. Thomas, however, expertly guided Edvald Boasson Hagen to beat compatriot Thor Hushovd to the line to claim Team Sky’s maiden Grand Tour road stage win.
"There were a few days on the Tour. Edvald on that stage, to lead him out and really look after him in that last couple of kilometres, that set it up nicely for him to finish it off nicely, it was amazing.
"It felt like being a junior again, to really influence the race and do what I wanted a lot of the time, I think that was the high point of the year, I felt great throughout the whole race really.
"To play a key role in that stage was great, and obviously also with being good mates with Edvald too, it was just a great day."
Thursday 14 July
Tour de France Stage 12
With GC hope Bradley Wiggins crashing out of the race the day after that win in Lisieux, Team Sky promised to go on the attack and on an afternoon that gripped British fans it was Thomas who got into a Bastille Day break and overcame a couple of unscheduled off-road moments to lead the Tour up one of its most fabled ascent. Unlike Thomas, FDJ’s Jeremy Roy knew that the €5,000 Souvenir Jacques Goddet awaited the first man over the summit and passed the Team Sky man shortly before the top of the climb – but the Welshman got €2,000 for his troubles as the day’s most combative rider.
"That day I was in the break, it was just a real experience. I’d done lead-outs and stuff before, like with Edvald winning that stage, but I’d never climbed that well before, it was unbelievable.
"I got to the Tourmalet and looked behind and all of a sudden, being on my own, I’m climbing and climbing well. It was a great day, to be off the front and the crowd was going crazy and you just get goosebumps riding up there.
"For some reason you also seem to pick out the British voices as well, and see the flags, the passion on all their faces, it was an incredible day. Even though I’d had the crashes earlier on, they helped spice up the whole day.
"It was a bit of a long shot but you always think, ‘well, maybe I could get quite far,’ so to get to 6 or 7 kilometres to go was nice.
"Then to see at that point in the race the big hitters and their faces, and how they’re riding, which obviously I’d never seen other than on TV, that was interesting.
"I didn’t even know about the prize for going over the Tourmalet first till the end when someone mentioned it, I thought it was a bit strange when he went so hard over the top, I thought he was maybe going for the King of the Mountains points! It’s just one of those things."
Sunday 25 September 2011
UCI Road World Championships, Copenhagen
We don’t need to say much about this one, do we? Great Britain’s seven-man team supporting Mark Cavendish rode their socks (which bore his name) off, keeping the race together ahead of a thrilling finale in which despite efforts of other teams to disrupt his leadout, the Manxman burst through to take the win. David Millar likened being part of the GB team that day to being a member of the England World Cup winning side of 1966 – and coming from a Scot, that really is something. It’s a sentiment with which Cardiff born and bred Thomas wholeheartedly agrees.
"To be part of that day, to dominate the race like that, it was just special the whole day. We all had confidence in Cav and we all knew that he could win if we got him into the right position.
"We were all on the same wavelength and knew what we had to do. I think we all thrived off each other. Steve [Cummings] did so well early on and actually went longer into the race than we thought he would, we all thrived on that, the longer we could save Brad Wiggins, Ian Stannard and David Millar, the more confident we got.
"It was incredible to be a part of that. Winning the Worlds is special, it’s not something that everyone has a chance of doing, so to be part of that group, I think it shows how far British cycling has come. There were a few guys at home who could have ridden as well. It was just a phenomenal day.
"We were there for Great Britain, we’re all British, we were all proud to wear it, every time we wear it it’s not very often you get to wear it, just at World Cups and the Worlds, it’s a great privilege and honour to wear it. We were all in it together and it was that ‘us against the world’ attitude. In the past, the Italians, the French, the Spanish or whoever never had much respect for the Brits, so we were out there to prove a point as well, and I think we definitely did that.
"Obviously not many other teams wanted a sprint and they all tried things, it was basically just us riding from the start to the finish. Okay, it was flat and there wasn’t much climbing, but everyone’s still pretty good bike riders there at the Worlds. It’s more that attitude of ‘we’re all in it together’ and that confidence that helped us thrive off each other that gave us our strength."