‘I’ve had real highs and low lows’: Geraint Thomas targets Tour revival

With three stages under the belt and a wardrobe malfunction in the opening time trial aside, the 2022 Tour de France has begun relatively smoothly for Geraint Thomas. Compared with his disastrous starts to the recent Grand Tours of France and Italy the Welshman is doing very well indeed but then the 36-year-old’s gift for deadpan understatement has long helped him survive the gladiatorial world of professional road racing.

Even at the worst of times Thomas’s dry humour has remained intact. Since winning the Tour in 2018 he has needed it. There have been crashes and a dip in status after the Ineos Grenadiers understudy Egan Bernal prevented him from claiming back-to-back wins in 2019.

“The way the 2019 Tour ended was a damp squib in a way,” Thomas said during the first rest day of this year’s race. “As a team we were first and second, yet because the stage [to Tignes] got cancelled and the next stage got shortened, it was a slight anticlimax. I felt like I had more to give, but that’s just the way it was.”

“But I’m still proud of the result, because 2018 was a big winter. It was a ‘Jan Ullrich-style’ winter,” Thomas added referencing the 1997 winner’s reputation for off-season excesses. “Yeah, I definitely made the most of winning in 2018.”

No matter how good his form, Thomas has at times seemed a magnet for bad luck, with crashes caused by rogue water bottles, badly positioned race motorbikes and, in one of the gruelling spring Classics, a freak gust of wind.

“I’ve had some real highs and some low lows but I’ve got to the stage where I’ve realised that all you can do is work hard and, once you get into the races, just give it your best,” he said. “So much can happen and so much can go right and go wrong.”

The riders may have arrived in France only yesterday but it seems pretty clear that, unless something disastrous befalls Tadej Pogacar, the defending champion will remain the rider to beat. But there is also just a hint, given that Pogacar has crashed once already, that this year might not be quite as one-sided as in the past. Thomas’s team has already got under the 23-year-old’s skin this season; maybe it was petulance or frustration, but when Pogacar misjudged his sprint in the coveted Tour of Flanders one-day race in April he rounded on Thomas’s teammate Dylan Van Baarle beyond the finish line, turning the spring air blue in a fit of rage.

“It’s going to be incredibly hard,” Thomas said. “As we all know Pogacar is unbelievable but I do believe we can beat him. Otherwise I might just as well go on holiday with my son.” Cunning, experience and guile, which Ineos have in abundance, all helps, Thomas admitted, before adding that “if you don’t have the legs, you don’t have the legs, because 75% of it is in the legs.”

But will Ineos really be able to rattle Pogacar? “Everyone can be rattled and he hasn’t been put under huge amounts of pressure in the Tour yet. When we think about winning, he’s a big part of that but at the same time it’s not all about him.”