As the peloton hurtled towards the finish line in Saint-Vallier at the Criterium du Dauphine, it looked like another victory was on the cards for the in-form Sonny Cobrelli of Bahrain Victorious. His leadout squad was perfectly poised, and he was certainly the favourite from the 50-rider strong group that remained.
What the orange-clad team hadn’t expected, though, was the move of the gangly GC man who hooned it out of the final tight hairpin bend to get a gap on his rivals. Geraint Thomas, a rider who we would normally expect to see deep in the Ineos Grenadier’s famous mountain train, managed his effort with the skill that only a rider of his calibre could — holding off Cobrelli’s gallop to take the win by half a wheel when they crossed the line.
Thomas won thanks to an exemplary pace-management strategy which he might have hoped to perfect in the time trial the day before, where he lost over 10 seconds in the final kilometres. He explained afterwards that he’d timed his effort completely wrong and had simply run out of gas in the closing stages. Still, if there’s one way to stop everyone discussing your mistakes the previous day, it’s to give them something else to talk about. Thomas certainly did that in stage 5.
Those who have only followed the Welshman’s career in recent years may know him solely as a climber and time trial specialist, perfectly moulded by Ineos to win Grand Tours and flourish at high altitude. It’s true, Thomas has more than made his mark in the stage races, cementing his place in history when he took victory in the Tour de France in 2018.
However, Geraint was raised on the track as part of Great Britain’s team pursuit squad, and won two Olympic gold medals in this discipline in both the 2008 and 2012 Games, as well as picking up three world championship titles along the way. The skills required for a team pursuit include having an explosive kick and the ability to go incredibly deep over an effort of only a couple of minutes.
This sort of natural acceleration and capability to go for an elongated sprint is something that sets Thomas apart from his GC rivals. Whilst he hasn’t trained on the track in recent years, the fast twitch muscle fibres and years of riding at high cadence means that he can pack a punch at the finish, and shouldn’t be put in the category of a pure climber or time trial specialist. His move was perhaps surprising from a rider targeting the overall, but his ability to pull it off shouldn’t come as a surprise — Thomas is well suited to those punchy efforts.
In the early days of Thomas’ transition fully to the road, he won the 2015 edition of E3 Harelbeke with an attack which had an uncanny resemblance to his one in the Dauphine yesterday. At E3, he made the jump on Peter Sagan and Zdenek Stybar in the final 4km, using his seated acceleration to take an impressive solo win. It looks like we’re now seeing a vintage Geraint Thomas, with the youthful motivation he had in the earlier days of his career.
His victory also highlighted the strength in depth and experience of Team Ineos. Michał Kwiatkowski, an ex-world champion turned super-domestique, showed expert tactical prowess, letting go of Thomas’ wheel coming round the bend and, in turn, disrupting the lead-out of Bahrain Victorious’ Jack Haig and forcing them to put in a big chase to try and get back on terms with the flying Welshman.
Thomas’ attitude has been calm and understated throughout the race, his interviews reflecting control and poise. In his pre-race interview in stage 1, he explained it would be a tough eight days, but he would remain vigilant and carry confidence following his strong results at the Tour of Romandie. Perhaps his lighthearted attitude points to good form and self-assuredness. That’s another reason why when he took the punt on stage 5, it wasn’t truly a bolt out of the blue.
When the Ineos rider won the Tour in 2018, he took victory at the Dauphine only a few weeks before. If Thomas can keep his good run of form and contest the win as the race continues this week, perhaps this is a sign of what we will see from him in the Tour de France. So we can’t be the only onlookers suspecting that if he continues with gutsy attacks and surprise moves, he will be able to snatch the yellow jersey next month.
He’ll have to get past that well-known Slovenian duo first, though.