It perhaps reflects the times that someone as experienced – and still competitive - as Geraint Thomas is fielding questions about retirement at the beginning of a season set to include a title tilt at the Giro d’Italia.
The laidback Welshman is sporting a few grey hairs but otherwise appears the same, motivated, hard-working, and funny, despite the changes happening all around him – within his Ineos Grenadiers team, the WorldTour peloton and conversation.
Thomas’s star hasn’t waned but once upon a time it maybe would have shined brighter. His career bucket list, lined with green ticks – from Olympic gold on the track, to victories in major week-long stage races and finishing on every step of the podium at the Tour de France – would be seen as advantageous.
However, when 21- and 22-year-olds started winning Grand Tours and world championships - Thomas is set to face at least one of those, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal - Quick-Step), at the Giro this year - experience started to be perceived as age and age as an impediment.
Maybe that is why the 36-year-old, who partly due to lingering illness skipped Volta ao Algarve this week in favour of a longer stint training in Los Angeles, has been comparatively overlooked in recent years.
Few pundits picked that he would finish third at the Tour de France last season behind Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), despite his credentials and triumph at the Covid-19-ravaged Tour de Suisse in the lead-up.
“I didn't really see it as a big deal as it's been made out almost,” Thomas told Rouleur of his result at last year’s Tour.
“I felt this is what I've been doing the last few years. Obviously ‘21 was a shitshow and ‘20 crashed out, so I didn't get to show, but I feel like I was going the same or if not better on those occasions. So, for me, it was where I've been at for the last few years, but it was super nice to turn that fortune around, have a good solid race, not have any big mishaps, and show everyone what I'm still capable of.”
That campaign came off a 2021 season in which Thomas and recently retired team-mate Richie Porte virtually took it in turns winning cycling’s traditional stage races.
Thomas kicked off his 2023 season early at the Tour Down Under (Getty Images)
Thomas was third at the Volta a Catalunya in an Ineos Grenadiers clean sweep, got a confidence boost when he claimed the ensuing Tour de Romandie, and then placed third at the Critérium du Dauphiné, after supporting Porte to the title.
Porte days after the 2021 Dauphiné said he’d work for Thomas at the Tour, believing he could win the maillot jaune, but Ineos Grenadiers opted for an advertised three-prong approach and flopped.
“G [Thomas] deserves one year of at least having a full team behind him, doesn’t he? I think,” Porte said at the time.
One for all and all for…
Thomas even when he won the yellow jersey in 2018 was framed in Chris Froome’s shadow until it became apparent on the road which of the two men were stronger at that edition.
It is rare for proven winners to race for team-mates or switch so readily between the two roles of champion and aid, as he does. You’re wired one way or the other, generally.
Thomas acknowledges Porte’s sentiment, and recalls having outright leadership once at the 2020 Giro, which ran in October that year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but he was forced to abandon after three stages.
“It would be nice to have had it a bit more but that's the way it is, it's what happens when you're in a strong team. I don't think there's positives and negatives to it either, you know, being the sole leader or sharing it. I'm happy in my own little world really of getting into the best shape and taking it day by day,” Thomas said.
“There's always feeling like you've got to continually prove yourself, but I think that keeps everyone on their toes. As long as you take that in the right way and it doesn't become a negative or it doesn't irritate you, then I think it can work well. That's what pushes everyone on in the team.”
Thomas in his 17th pro season is a constant in a changing environment where generational differences are now noticeable but not totally unrelatable.
Last month he opened his 2023 campaign at the Tour Down Under, where he clocked base miles while recovering from an unspecified infection that required antibiotics.
Aside from him and Ben Swift, the Ineos Grenadiers team that lined up for the WorldTour opener was comprised of riders under the age of 25. There were three PlayStations within the squad, Thomas told journalists in South Australia, but his idea of unwinding is still with a beer, when allowed.
“I love a bit of FIFA but I'm not as into it as some of them that's for sure,” he said.
Thomas is a staple at Ineos Grenadiers, having joined a previous incarnation of the team in 2010, counting established stars, then peers and now the likes of Egan Bernal, who he describes as “our main GC guy”, as teammates.
Thomas played every role as rider before winning the Tour de France in 2018 (James Startt)
Thomas was also familiar with success at a young age but his rearing in the WorldTour was gradual, “from purely a helper, then one-day races, week-races, Grand Tours,” not instantaneous. It has contributed to a long and diverse career but even now, he dismisses the idea of hand-selecting a team for the Giro, like Evenepoel reportedly will. Reports in December stated the reigning Vuelta a España champion could pick five of the seven men who will ride alongside him in Italy in May.
“There's always a discussion with management but at the end of the day they're the bosses and they choose,” Thomas said. “They might talk to you, make you think you've got some sort of input, but it's up to them. I think they do value your opinion as a rider but it's their call.”
Remco and Roglič and retirement
The veteran all-rounder doesn’t have anything outstanding that he wants to achieve but has embraced change and is using it as his motivation, which is still omnipresent.
“There's nothing I feel like, 'Oh I need to achieve this' before I stop,” he told Rouleur.
“Contract's up this year, chatted to the team a few days before [Tour Down Under] about possibly extending, they're keen, so we'll see how that goes.”
Thomas hasn’t publicly said or done anything to suggest he’s ready to retire yet and entertain something else, although he has toyed with the idea of an Ironman.
Cycling is all the academy product has known. And he is still enjoying it.
“Ever since I was a junior, I've just loved riding my bike and that's what everything has been about,” he said. “You've always had a goal that you're working towards, like a race, so that will also be strange, when the time comes to finally hang it up. But yeah, it's all we know really.
“I feel like I've got to experience every part of road racing, track racing, and [I’m] grateful for that.”
In the coming months, he is backing himself in for the Giro and while seasoned enough to know that a lot can happen between now and then, Thomas is confident in the support he’ll have.
Thomas is taking aim once again at the Giro, this time hoping for better luck (Getty Images)
“I'm just going to try and get there in the best shape I can and obviously everyone else in the team does the same and we take it from there,” he said.
“If somebody is riding better than me then I'll obviously help them, but the thinking is, yeah, to try and go there and get a good GC result, try and win the race.”
He’s mindful of the future but sees his experience not as an impediment rather an advantage against rivals he’s happy to let take headlines.
“With Remco and [Jumbo-Visma’s Primož] Roglič we've got to be more diverse in our tactics and think outside the box sometimes and be prepared to use other guys as well,” Thomas said.
“The main thing is going there with a team that is super motivated, which we are, and obviously get on that start line with everyone in best shape, which is the biggest challenge because so much can happen in sport. If you were to select the team now, it probably won't be the team that starts the Giro.”
Cover image by James Startt