Like meditating on a busy street, or a big meal and skinny jeans, or credit card bills and saving money, history tells us that Geraint Thomas and the Giro d’Italia simply just do not work well together. Every time the Welshman has taken to the grande partenza, ill fate has followed in the weeks that follow. It isn’t normally Thomas’s fault, but instead it can be blamed on the almost unfathomable amount of poor fortune that seems to plague the Ineos Grenadiers rider season after season.
Take the 2017 Giro d’Italia, for example, Thomas was given his first opportunity to have the leadership role in a Grand Tour. Everything was going well until one fateful moment on stage nine. In a sort of freak accident – like many of Thomas’s unfortunate crashes – a police race motorbike was stopped on the left-hand side of the road as the peloton was hurtling towards the finish with 14 kilometres to go. As riders swerved to avoid the stationary vehicle, Thomas was victim to a ripple effect in the peloton, causing him to hit the ground hard and at speed. Images emerged of the then-Team Sky rider with ripped, bloodied jersey and crushed hopes of a general classification victory.
He ended up finishing over six minutes down on that stage, waving goodbye to his lofty ambitions of a podium finish. But the next day, Thomas surprised many by putting in a sterling performance to finish second in stage ten’s individual time trial behind Tom Dumoulin. It was exciting times for both him and his British team, re-awakening hopes of what Thomas might be able to pull out of the bag during the remaining two weeks of racing. These pipe dreams of pink were crushed only two days later, however, when Thomas took to social media to announce that he would be abandoning the race before the start of stage 13, citing severe shoulder pain following his crash. Another chance gone, another winter of preparation wasted.
An injured Geraint Thomas after crossing the finish line of the 9th stage of the 2017 Giro d'Italia (LUK BENIES/AFP via Getty Images)
As time went on, the relationship between Thomas and the Giro has only continued to sour. His attempt at the race in 2020 was perhaps the strangest and most surprising exit the Welshman has ever made from a Grand Tour. On stage three to Mount Etna, Thomas’s chances at victory went up in smoke. It wasn’t because of a lack of fitness, or shoddy technical skills, or even a mass pile-up in the peloton. The cause of Thomas’s exit from the race after that stage was just one, simple, poorly placed water bottle in the neutral zone. Yes, you did read that correctly. A plastic bidon before the race had even begun.
As the peloton set off through the streets of Enna, the stray, cursed bottle rolled right in front of Thomas’s front wheel. The bidon exploded and Thomas swerved to the other side of the road and lost control, coming down heavily on his left side. In his quick remount, Thomas revealed deep abrasions and cuts on his jersey. Eventually, he finished 12 minutes behind his fellow GC rivals on that stage, his hopes of pink ending prematurely, just as they had in 2017. Scans later revealed fractured pelvis. It was arrivederci to another Giro d’Italia.
Geraint Thomas during stage 18 of the 2022 Tour de France (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
At the start of this season, Thomas announced that, three years after his last, tragic appearance at the Giro, he would return to the race in 2023. “Let’s hope I can get round this time,” he wrote on Twitter, with a laughing emoji. Joking, but not really.
The question stands: could this year be when Thomas discovers his love for the Giro d’Italia? Where the two bitter enemies can unite to create what the Ineos Grenadiers will hope is a swathe of rosy pink jerseys and Pinarellos? Looking at Thomas’s season in 2022, and so far in 2023, it’s not out of the question. His third place at the Tour de France last year was proof that he still has the form to compete with the best over a three week Grand Tour when things go right, and his recent solid performance at the Tour of the Alps in aid of Tao Geoghegan Hart's victory was proof his form is there this year too.
Thomas has been looking a little different as he races in 2023, without his trademark white Oakleys as his team has moved to SunGod glasses for this season (a distressing end of an era for Thomas), but maybe this shift will be part of what he needs to change his fortune at the Giro.
The parcours in Italy this year are better suited to Thomas than those in the Tour de France, with more kilometres against the clock – a total of 70.6 time trialling kilometres, the most of any Giro since the 2013 edition, and almost three times as many as at last year’s. Mentally, Thomas knows what it takes to win a Grand Tour, he’s done it once already in the Tour de France, and physically, he and his team know the ideal preparation, periodisation and training required to get the Welsh rider into top shape.
But one thing that could hamper his chances is luck. Thomas needs to stay upright to have a shot at winning, something he’s been unable to do in his two previous attempts at the Giro and in many key races over the past couple of years. The ingredients could be there for a second Grand Tour victory for Thomas in 2023 – albeit almost five years after his first – but things need to come together over the three weeks. Thomas’s many fans will be rooting for him during the Giro d'Italia, but they may have to watch through their fingers to calm the nerves.