Geraint Thomas: There’s not one quick fix for matching Jumbo-Visma in Grand Tours

The Welshman speaks to Rouleur about the development of Ineos Grenadiers, the next two years of his contract and explains why he speaks openly on his podcast

Anyone remotely involved in the world of cycling would have read about Geraint Thomas’ now famous off-season antics. In numerous interviews, he’s shared stories of endless nights of heavy drinking and parties which have resulted in plenty of hangovers. 

Thomas bundles into the Rouleur Live venue on Saturday morning, running ten minutes late after a brisk walk from London Liverpool Street train station. He is quickly changed into a fresh Belstaff jacket before he sits down to be interviewed. He rubs his eyes and takes a deep breath before sharing those same tales of wild nights out. It’s not about boasting or garnering attention, though, Thomas says that having a period to fully escape life as a professional athlete is crucial to the longevity and success of his career so far.

“It works for me being so off and on. We've got about five weeks off and I’ve gone on a lot of nights out and meals out,” he says. “I think just being able to totally switch off, move away from it completely and then come back to be 100% focused keeps me fresh and motivated, as opposed to always thinking about what you eat and and drink. If I did that, because of my personality, I’d just crack.”

The struggle that Thomas discusses when it comes maintaining the type of focus required for performances at a Grand Tour became evident throughout the 2023 season. While the Welshman had an extremely successful stint at the Giro d’Italia, finishing second, he was unable to regain that form when he started the Vuelta a España later in the year. Despite narrowly missing out on the pink jersey after a painful loss in the time trial on the penultimate stage, he reflects on the Giro with satisfaction.

“When I look back to the start of the year, I had illnesses and stuff getting in the way of my training for about two-and-a-half months without any consistency. To go to the Giro and still get a result like that and ride well, it was encouraging,” he says. “I did everything I could. Coming into the start of March, I definitely would have taken that.”It was his impressive stint in pink that helped Thomas with his contract negotiations with the Ineos Grenadiers at the end of this season. While many thought that the 37-year-old might call time on his career, Ineos recently announced that Thomas would continue with the team for another two seasons.

“The contract negotiations were a lot easier and a lot more straightforward this time round. It was agreed quite soon after the Giro and I am super happy. It feels like home now. I’ve got lifelong friends and known the staff for so long,” Thomas explains. “I was never going to go to another team, it was just about deciding whether I wanted to continue riding, but I'm excited for another two years. I'm happy, I still like racing my bike and training and my family's happy, so it's kind of a no brainer.”

While the Giro might have been crucial to convincing both Thomas and his team that he should continue his career in professional cycling, the Welsh rider had a much less successful attempt at the Vuelta a España a few months later. He explains that the struggle to maintain his race weight was a reason for his subpar performance in Spain.

“I have to be so under my natural weight that to hit that for the Giro and then come down and then come back up so soon after, that was a big challenge. It's the first time I've done it,” he says. “Being 37 and doing something for the first time, it’s quite late. I’ll try to take that forward but I don’t think I'll be doing two Grand Tours to try and win again. We're always still learning, always trying to improve.”

The 2023 Vuelta was an exhibition from one team in particular: Jumbo-Visma. The Dutch team swept the three top spots on the podium in Madrid, with Ineos lagging behind – especially when it came to the high mountains. Cycling fans, and no doubt the riders themselves, will be hoping that next season sees more variety when it comes to those at the top of the sport. Thomas believes that Ineos will be forced to play the long game when it comes to building their own level to compete with Jumbo Visma.

“The main thing is, we’ve got a really young team now. They just need a bit of time to develop and get better. Obviously, we also have myself and a few older guys, but it’s not just one quick fix,” he explains. “The team has definitely had a transition with everything that's gone on with the staff more than anything. Fran Millar left and Rod [Ellingworth] left for a bit, and Dave [Brailsford] had health issues and his role changed and Tim Kerrison moved on. It was a lot of change. It’s heading in the right direction but it’s hard to turn it around overnight. I think it just takes time with the young guys.”

With over a decade of experience in the professional peloton, Thomas admits that, alongside Luke Rowe, he’s begun to take on a sort of leadership role within Ineos Grenadiers, advising the team's younger riders who are new to the sport.

“I'm not wanting to go in and say, you need to do this. It’s more leading by example. I’m keen to help young guys out, especially when they're as talented as they are and you can see the potential there. They’re not a million miles away though,” he explains.

Thomas and Rowe have been on the Ineos Grenadiers together since the team's inception, growing up racing against each other in Wales as teenagers before turning professional. The two men have a close friendship which shines through on their Watts Occurring podcast, a show which has taken the cycling scene by storm in recent years. The pair’s candid openness and honesty is refreshing in a sport which has, for so long, struggled with transparency. Thomas believes his relationship and security with the Ineos Grenadiers has allowed him to speak freely about life in the peloton.

“I think it comes with experience and age, being comfortable to say what you think and being straight to the point. I don’t really worry too much about what other people are going to think about it. With especially younger athletes, you always think people could be out to get you or twist your words. Right now, we just say what we think,” he explains. “Luke suggested it as a joke really, he said let's do a podcast so we can just say what we think and not have to do interviews. It’s good to get that experience and confidence of speaking as well.”

With such openness naturally comes some controversial views that are often picked up by major news outlets. It’s not uncommon to see quotes from the Watts Occuring podcast used as headlines, something that might have caused the Ineos Grenadiers press team a few grey hairs.

“I think sometimes they do get a bit nervous because we kind of forget that it goes out into the world. It feels like there's just us, but there are actually 40,000 people that are listening to it,” Thomas laughs. “But the team has been really good to be fair, they know what we're like and they're happy for us to be ourselves.”

Aside from his growing podcast popularity, Thomas has two more years in the peloton to think about and there are some high expectations following his Giro performance this year. As he admits, he hasn’t spent his off-season particularly focused on the goals ahead, but, as a former winner, competing in the Tour de France is always on Thomas’s wish list for his race calendar.

“I haven't looked at the route in too much detail. I've been away from everything, but the Tour finishes in Nice which is obviously special because I've lived down there for the last five years or so,” he says. “The Giro also looks good with two long time trials. I think both races have a bit of gravel.”

As a rider who has struggled with bad luck and crashes in the past, adding gravel into the mix in Grand Tours is another risk element that Thomas would be keen to avoid.

“If you spend the whole year working for it and you get an untimely puncture or even a crash with somebody in front of you, gravel makes that chance higher. But it's the same for everyone and it's just the way it is. If it was up to me, I probably wouldn't have it. But I'm not that against it.”

Above all, whether it's speaking on his podcast, competing in racing or just spending time training and riding his bike, Thomas believes that he’s able to continue his career because of a pure love for the sport. His balanced attitude and lifestyle, as well as mental strength, means that he’s still performing at the very top level in the biggest bike races in the world at the age of 37, with two more years still remaining.

“I still just love racing the bike and that thrill you get from it,” he says. “Obviously the Vuelta wasn’t that enjoyable but I’ve always had that attitude to keep going and not give up. The main thing is that my motivation comes from loving what I'm doing.”

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