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Tour de France 2018: Geraint Thomas' transformation from precocious talent to a champion was worth its wait

A new name was added to the list of Tour de France winners last Sunday, when Geraint Thomas won the 105th edition of the race. The Welshman debuted in this race in 2007 as a wild card entry for team Barloworld, finishing one place from the bottom that year. His recent victory comes 11 years since his first appearance, placing him in the league of Joop Zoetemelk as the rider who has taken the most number of years (since debut) to win the Tour. Despite this long association with road cycling, Thomas was not a household name as compared to many of his contemporaries. Now that he is a Tour winner and the public interest in him is at an all time high, we take a look the history and achievements of this affable rider from Wales.

Born on 25 May 1986, Thomas took up cycling at the age of ten, when his parents joined him in the Maindy Flyers Cycling Club. During his formative years, he went to Whitchurch High School in Cardiff; an institute which has produced many top sportsmen. Gareth Bale (playing football for Wales and Real Madrid) and Sam Warburton (former captain of the British and Irish Lions rugby union team) are two eminent schoolmates of Geraint.

Thomas was a precocious talent, who was snapped up by British Cycling’s Olympic Academy at a young age. Never seeking personal glory, he was the quintessential team player in any competition that he was part of. His former coach Rod Ellingworth once recounted an anecdote when they were facing a strong rival, and the only way to stop him seemed, that a volunteer within the team fall off in front of the opponent. Not realising that it was a joke and ever eager to help, Thomas raised his hand, ready to take one for the team. Thankfully it remained a joke and both, Thomas’ skin and Ellingworth’s reputation, didn’t scrape the bottom.

If Thomas has one regret from his early days, it was never being able to win his local race, the Junior Tour of Wales. This prestigious race sees rich participation from talented young riders who are probable future stars. Thomas came very close to winning it in 2004, sparring with Ireland’s Dan Martin, only to finish in second place. Dan has certainly not forgotten the race, and wittily reminded Thomas of the old battle, just a couple of days before the latter won the Tour.

Thomas may have competed in the 2007 Tour de France, but his real focus in the initial years of his career was “Track Racing”, which was also where he won his first major laurels. The Welshman was a member of UK’s gold winning squad in the Olympics (2008 & 2012) and World Championships (2007 & 2008) “Team Pursuit” event. In his track cycling heydays, he (along with his team) also went on to set six world records in the team pursuit event (four in the Olympics and two in World Championships).

The formation of Team Sky in 2010 gave him the opportunity to have another go at road cycling. Thomas was among the first six riders contracted by the British team, which was then considered nothing more than an intriguing British experiment. True to his loyal nature, Thomas has stayed with Sky for all it’s eight years, together moving up the ladder of cycling royalty. Leaving track cycling helped him focus completely on the road, which produced notable results like victory in the 2016 Paris–Nice, the 2017 Tour of the Alps and the 2018 Critérium du Dauphiné. He also won the first stage of the 2017 Tour de France, becoming the first Welshman to wear the famous maillot jaune.

 Tour de France 2018: Geraint Thomas transformation from precocious talent to a champion was worth its wait

Geraint Thomas of Team Sky won the 2018 edition of Tour de France on Sunday by a sizeable margin, becoming the first person from Wales to lift the coveted trophy. AP

Despite the above success, Thomas was never really accorded the full opportunity to display his talent, as he was always shackled with pacing his team captains, first Bradley Wiggins and later Chris Froome. Several times he was placed in promising positions, closing in on probable glory, only to pull back as he prioritised the team’s requirements over his personal ambitions. His winning opportunities were also hampered by frequent crashes, which have been his biggest weakness. The list of his high profile crashes would probably be too long for this piece, but suffice to say that he has crashed more often than what is generally expected of a professional cyclist.

His falls have resulted in fractured pelvis (twice), broken collarbone, ruptured spleen (such that it had to be removed), and the list goes on. These ill timed crashes have certainly played a part in Thomas not being able to consolidate his position in races. To quote recent examples, he crashed out of the 2017 Giro, riding as Sky’s team leader and also fell out of the 2017 Tour when he was riding second in the overall classification. But all that is hopefully behind him, looking at the flawless races he has had this season, with no major crashes to speak of. In fact Thomas was the only top rider not to crash in the recent Tour.

So now that he is a Tour winner, the question arises as to how will Thomas shape his career going ahead. The situation in Sky is certainly complicated, as they now have two Grand Tour winners riding together in the same team. Froome is unlikely to let go his ambition of matching the legendary five time Tour winners and will be expected to come to the 2019 Tour fresher and better prepared. With this tricky situation, it is highly unlikely that Sky will “let the road decide” their captain, as they did (or pretended to do) this year. I think, much will depend on how the two riders perform in 2019 and based on their early season form, Sky may go with the better prepared rider as their leader. Alternatively, they may also opt for a two pronged strategy, where Thomas targets the 2019 Giro with support from Froome, and both riders switch their roles for the Tour de France.

Another option for Thomas is shift to a different team, where he could be the undisputed leader. But that is unlikely, considering Thomas’ loyal nature and also because in the present peloton there is no other team which will be able to provide him with the strong set of support riders as Sky. Thomas has hinted towards his wish to return to shorter (specialist) races and One Day Classics where his true strengths lay. Will he go the Wiggins way, being content with one Tour win and chasing other dreams as the “World Time Trial Championships” and the “Hour Record”; or will he try to win more Grand Tours and catch up with Froome. Only time will answer that question, but at 32 years of age, whichever path he chooses, Thomas has only a couple of his best years ahead of him to achieve further glories.

Whatever be his future career trajectory, for now it's wonderful to see the efforts of a universally respected and humble sportsman bear fruit. It surely will be fascinating to watch where he goes from here and we wish him all the luck for future challenges. Finally, in the spirit of Le Tour, we must depart by saying “Chapeau Geraint Thomas.”

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Updated Date: Aug 01, 2018 17:23:35 IST