Welshman Geraint Thomas has few qualms about helping boost Britain’s Olympic medals haul at London this summer – even if it comes at a cost to his promising road career. Thomas, an Olympic team pursuit champion from Beijing, has emerged as one of the peloton’s most promising young riders in the past two years with Team Sky.
A 10th place finish at the Tour of Flanders one-day classic last year came barely a year after he was runner-up to veteran Norwegian Thor Hushovd on one of the toughest stages of his second Tour de France campaign in 2010. On the 2011 edition, Thomas showed his class by providing crucial support to Norwegian teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen as he scored Sky’s first two stage wins on the world’s premier cycling event. Such performances have singled the 25-year-old out as a future star of major classics like Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but also as a potential winner of Europe’s top stage races. Team Sky sports director, former pro Sean Yates, is convinced about Thomas’s potential.
“So far, he’s just dabbled (in the classics), really. But I’m sure when he gets his head around it, when the Olympics are done and dusted, he will be massive,” Yates told AFP at the Tour Down Under.
Despite the thrill of success on the Tour de France, and showcasing his skills among far more experienced campaigners on the classics, Thomas admits his decision to prioritize track this season was not necessarily easy.
“It was and it wasn’t,” he told AFP. “I knew deep down the Games is what I want to win, so I want to give myself the chance to do that. “I’m sure when the (road) races are on I’m gonna miss them and be watching them wishing I was there, but I’m doing it for the right reasons.”
While Britain are the reigning Olympic champions, Australia have won the last two world titles for the 4km event and set a new world record of 3:55.42 on the way to Commonwealth gold in Delhi in 2010. Come February, team pursuit superpowers Britain, New Zealand, Russia and Denmark will see whether the Aussies are still the men to beat.
“It’s exciting times really for the team pursuit,” added Thomas, who is set to race on the road at Paris-Nice and, possibly, the Milan-SanRemo classic, in March prior to the track worlds. “The whole race has moved on, there’s a few teams that are capable of going 3:57, 3:56 now but come the Olympics the world record is going to have to go. I think we’ll go (to the World Cup) with our strongest line-up and go as fast as we can. It would be nice to have all the other big teams there to see where everyone’s at.”
He added: “At the worlds it will be a case of going out to do fast rides, and hopefully that will bring the medals. If not, it shows how far off you are and how much work you’ve got to do.”
Missing this year’s Tour de France to race the Giro d’Italia instead means Sky will be deprived of Thomas’s formidable lead-out skills for recently-signed sprinter, world champion Mark Cavendish. After Thomas serves his country, Yates can’t wait to welcome the highly-valued Welshman back to the fold.
“Obviously it’s a little bit of an inconvenience for us that the Olympic Games are there, but for him it’s a massive thing, especially with his chances of gold,” added Yates. “We’ll accept that, and hopefully when he comes back it will be with a vengeance.”