The Vuelta a España hasn’t been kind to Geraint Thomas. He started out with grand ambitions, one of five big favourites, but the first week was nothing short of a nightmare. As his expected rivals thrived and duked it out with one another, he crashed; he lost two teammates to injury; tacks punctured his tyres; he had a mechanical in the stage 10 time trial; and, above all, he was off the pace in the four mountain tests.
With the race now entering its second-half, Thomas, 13 minutes behind race leader Sepp Kuss, has refocused his goals. He, and his Ineos Grenadiers team, know that there is very little worth in chasing a minor GC result, so he is now a stage hunter.
On stage 11, a typical Vuelta a España day that was mostly flat for its entirety until a final climb packing in 600m of elevation gain, Thomas was one of 26 riders who infiltrated the breakaway that stayed away until the end. He was still there on the upper steep slopes of Laguna Negra, and for a moment looked the best-placed to win when he kicked on inside the final 500 metres. Come the finish, however, it was Jesús Herrada of Cofidis who triumphed, Thomas’s legs running out of power; he settled for fifth place.
It was not the result the Briton would have wanted, but it was an indication that he remains in this Vuelta to achieve something noteworthy. He now looks likely to adopt the Thibaut Pinot role of going in more breakaways in search of stage victories, all the while quietly creeping up the overall standings. As a consequence of his day in the break, he now sits seven-and-a-half minutes off the lead, and just over four minutes back from Aleksandr Vlasov in 10th.
That is perhaps too small a gap to see him be allowed into future breaks that stay the distance by a considerable time margin, but Pinot’s exploits at this year’s Giro d'Italia hauled him up from 20th on GC to fifth come the finish in Rome; the Frenchman also won the mountains classification. There is, then, a template for Thomas to follow as he tries to salvage something positive from what has been an ill-fated Vuelta to date.
His attempts act as a statement of intent, too. At 37, he isn’t done yet. He keeps on uttering words to that effect, and it appears that his performance at the Giro, when he was agonisingly beaten to the win by 14 seconds from Primož Roglič, has re-energised him. He is expected to sign a two-year contract extension with Ineos, and both parties have publicly expressed a desire to see him return to the Tour de France, a race he won in 2018.
Even despite his advancing years and a succession of bad luck, the Welshman remains a fighter, committed to soldiering on no matter what misfortune he has to contend with. He has only won one stage (Critérium du Dauphiné, 2021) since winning on back-to-back days at the 2018 Tour, but he seems intent on adding a first-ever career victory in Spain to his palmarès in the next week-and-a-half. There wouldn’t be anyone who would begrudge him of that.