Geraint Thomas is a throwback in cycling’s bold new era of fun

Geraint Thomas is thirsty for more Grand Tour success (Picture: Shutterstock)

There was a time when the prospect of Geraint Thomas starting the first Grand Tour of the year as a red-hot podium favourite, having finished runner-up last year, within a fortune’s breath of winning outright, would have been heralded with national headlines and TV news reports.

Those heady are long gone, but Thomas isn’t, and it is a remarkable demonstration of his longevity that one of the original members of Team Sky is not only still pinning a number on his back, but has a 7/1 chance of winning one of the biggest races.

A lot has changed since the power days of the British super-team, and not only with regards team name and sponsor. The outfit which won seven out of eight Tours de France powered by the cash of the British media company, still has the same functioning DNA as the Sky days, but much in and around the outfit has changed.

Not least the cycle-scape in which they race. If you follow the sport, you don’t need me to point out how different professional bike riding is these days. Establishing an early lead in a Grand Tour and loading the leader’s jersey into the final carriage of a train of riders which chugs and protects it all the way to the finish, no longer works.

Teams are greedier, more aggressive, more daring and it is beautiful to watch. Winning overall is no longer enough. Stage victories, reckless raids and, dare I say it, having fun, are all important subplots.

Tadej Pogacar is one of cycling's new attacking superstars

Tadej Pogacar is one of cycling’s new attacking superstars (Picture: Shutterstock)

And while the likes of two-time Tour winner Tadej Pogacar and multi-discipline phenomenon Mathieu van der Poel have been smashing races and running circles around rivals for fun, some of the more traditionally minded teams have struggled to keep apace and shift their mentality.

Not that Ineos Grenadiers haven’t been successful, far from it. But when you no longer reach your own phenomenal bar of success, it becomes easy for observers to snipe. Team management has spoken for a number of years of being in a phase of ‘transition’, putting long-term progress above here-and-now stage wins, which is a luxury only one of the biggest-budgeted teams in the world can surely afford.

Especially when the desired transition is from winning the Tour de France to, well, winning the Tour de France. Their planned evolution isn’t so much into a different kind of team but rather into different, younger riders who can help them go back to being exactly the same kind of team they were.

While Ineos Grenadiers remain one of the best-funded teams in the world, on a par with double-Tour winners Visma-Lease a Bike, and Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates, they are proof of the fact that money alone doesn’t bring success. People do.

And this is where Ineos have had a significant overhaul. Sir Dave Brailsford, the talismanic guru who spearheaded the squad’s phenomenal triumphs, officially stepped down as team principal at the start of this year, swapping the team’s Death Star touring bus for the terraces of Old Trafford.

At least as significant, Brailsford’s deputy and the man effectively running the daily management of the team, Rod Ellingworth, also said his farewells.

This Giro d’Italia – which starts on Saturday – will be the first Grand Tour in the team’s 15-year history without either man at the helm, though there are enough of the Steve Cummings and the Carsten Jeppesen figures behind the scenes for continuity. Indeed, even the new performance director, Scott Drawer, worked for the team before, now bringing his experience from England Rugby and UK Sport back to the top job.

Amid all this change, both within and without, Thomas represents familiarity well beyond his simple presence.

Once again the Welshman is the team’s GC leader, and once again the proven Tour winner is the underdog, despite his dramatic second place last year, though that status is understandable given the phenomenal and in-form Pogacar on debut.

Geraint Thomas continues to show the way for Ineos Grenadiers

Geraint Thomas continues to show the way for Ineos Grenadiers (Picture: Getty Images)

All things being equal, you will read and hear an awful lot about the magnificence of Pog, the Slovenian superstar, over the next three weeks. But G knows better than most that winning bike races is almost as much about avoiding bad luck as it is being the most talented or the best prepared.

Should fortune favour the Welshman, it would be difficult to frame success as a step forward in Ineos’ ‘transition’ phase. Rather, it would be the ultimate throw-back, a greatest hits crowd pleaser, and a wonderful realisation of unfinished business for a 37-year-old who remains, to my mind, one of the most under-appreciated athletes these isles have produced in the last generation.

In his penultimate year of racing, there is one final recurring theme from the old days of Team Sky; we underestimate the physical and mental tenacity of Geraint Thomas at our peril.


MORE : The Tour de France Femmes is a ticket to the festival in the enchanted woods for women’s cycling


MORE : Netflix brought in streams of glory but new fans will find addictive Tour de France is impossible to predict