Geraint Thomas MBE, cyclist

Geraint Thomas: Copyright Bettini Photo Agency

The Olympic cycling champion, Geraint Thomas, believes "You've got to be professional - know when to let your hair down and when not to."

Raise Your Game: Why cycling?

Geraint Thomas: When I was a kid I did a lot of sports - mainly swimming. I went down to my local leisure centre, saw the advert for cycling and joined the club. I was doing both for a time. I decided I was better at cycling and thought I'd carry that on.

It was a really good setup at the Maindy Flyers. There was a really big group of us travelling around the country doing loads of races. It was a kind of youth club because we were all good mates and had a laugh. I just enjoyed it - that's why I carried it on. I realised I had potential so I just took it on from there.

RYG: When did it first dawn on you that you could make it as a professional?

GT: I think it was when I was about 18-years-old. I went to the Junior European Championships and got silver in the points race. Then I went to the Junior World Championships in Los Angeles and won the scratch race. From that point on I decided that's what I wanted to do. The Olympic Academy was set up so I joined that.

Profile

Name: Geraint Thomas

Born: 25th May 1986

Sport: Professional cyclist

Achievements:

  • British National Road Race Champion (2010)
  • Appointed MBE (2009)
  • Gold medal - Team Pursuit, Beijing Olympics (2008)
  • 1st Team Pursuit - World Championships in Manchester (World Record)(2008)
  • 1st Team Pursuit - World Championships, Mallorca (2007)
  • First Welshman in 40 years to ride in the Tour de France in 2007.
  • 3rd Points Race - Commonwealth Games, Melbourne (2006)
  • 2nd Team Pursuit - World Championships, Bordeaux (2006)
  • 2nd Men's Madison - World Track Cup, Manchester (2006)
  • 1st Team Pursuit - Moscow World Track Cup (2006)
  • 3rd Team Pursuit - Sydney World Track Cup (2006)
  • 3rd Men's Madison - Sydney World Track Cup (2006)
  • 1st Scratch Race - British Championships (2005)
  • 2nd European Junior Points Championship (2004)
  • 1st Paris-Roubaix Road Classic (Junior) (2004)

RYG: What sort of sacrifices have you had to make to get you this far?

GT: Obviously you can't go out drinking all the time. That's probably one of the hardest things to deal with (laughs). You have to live a structured life when you're training hard. You've got to look after yourself. You can't go out and eat McDonalds all the time. You've got to eat decent food and make sure that you don't get ill because then you can't race. You've got to be professional - know when to let your hair down and when not to.

RYG: What does it take to be a world class cyclist?

GT: Just commitment. You've got to be able to work hard every day of the year. You've got to enjoy it too. You can't go out in the wind and rain without enjoying it. I still like riding my bike. I went out today for a couple of hours even though I've got a week off. It's just nice to get out and clear your head.

A lot of people drop out when they're 18 or 19-years-old because it's such a commitment to get out there and do the work that you've got to do to perform. You can get away with it when you're younger but when you start racing with the big boys you've got to get on with it. You have bad days when you're at the back of the peloton. I think you just need the right mentality to cope with it.

RYG: What does a typical week's training involve?

GT: When I get out to Italy I've got quite a lot of races. When I'm not racing I'll be training for anything between 25 to 35 hours a week on the road. That consists of anything from two hour easy recovery rides, where you're not really doing anything except turning the legs over, to six hours in the hills. I really like the long rides though - just getting out there and battling with myself all day. You get back tired but you feel like you've accomplished something and that you're moving forward.

Training is pretty full on a lot of the time but the sessions are split up with intervals. We do sprints throughout the sessions which livens it up a bit. It's not like you're just plodding along all day. Out in Italy there's a good group of guys. There are two Welsh lads who I've known since I started cycling when I was about 13 or 14-years-old. I'm really good mates with them so I'll be out with them and the rest of the academy quite a bit.

RYG: How important is it to have a good diet if you want to be competitive?

GT: It's not as important on the track. Track racing is more about power and you obviously don't have to ride up big hills. Once you get onto the roads in the summer you've got to start watching what you eat. You've got to stay at your racing weight. On the roads that's about 70kg whereas on the track it's about 72kg. I can't remember the last time I had fast food. When I get out to Italy I just eat pasta. It's a lot healthier so it's easy to watch the weight out there. A good diet's definitely important on the road.

RYG: What have been the highlights of your career so far?

GT: I've travelled the world with cycling and experienced lots of different cultures. I've been to Moscow four times. I've been to Los Angeles twice and I've ridden all over Europe.

The highlight, in terms of achievements, was winning the World Team pursuit. When I won it as a junior it was good but to do it when you're a senior is a bit more special. It was a weird feeling because we were the favourites. It was half relief as well as being pleased. I don't think it's sunk in. That's definitely the biggest one.

RYG: And the lowlights?

GT: Definitely the crash in Australia in 2005. It was before a World Cup race and we were riding to the track. It was a Thursday and we were racing on the Friday. There was some metal debris in the road. I rode into it, fell onto my handlebars and ruptured my spleen.

At the time it felt bad but I wasn't in excruciating pain or anything. I couldn't really stand up and I felt really ill so I knew something was wrong but I didn't know the extent of it. Once I got to the hospital they wanted to put me on morphine to ease the pain. I just kept saying 'I've got to race tomorrow. I don't want any of that, it's a banned substance'. When they realised what it was I went straight onto the morphine because I knew I wouldn't be riding for a good six weeks.

That was definitely the low point - being in hospital for nine days and missing the race. I was supposed to be riding in the World Championships in Los Angeles as well a few weeks later. I stayed with the academy, watched them race and was well looked after by the managers of the team. They were really supportive and they flew my parents out to Australia to see me and kept my spirits up.

RYG: How long did it take to get back after such a serious injury?

GT: It didn't take me too long. I started riding my bike six weeks after I had my spleen out and I started racing again at the end of May. My accident was at the beginning of February so it didn't take me long to get back.

RYG: What did it feel like to represent Wales at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne?

GT: It was really good because I hadn't ridden for Wales as a senior before. It was quite surreal really. It's quite hard to race against your mates from England and Ireland. They're people you've got a really close bond with. To put on the Welsh jersey was special. It's something I'd never done and I'll probably only get the chance to do it every four years. It was good and to come away with a medal was pretty special. It was more or less a year on from my accident so it was good to complete the cycle, draw a line under it and move on.

RYG: You're a product of the GB team's Olympic Academy - how has that helped you in your career?

GT: It's helped me a lot. It makes you a lot more professional. The coaches look after you in terms of the life side of things as well. When I was at the academy we had cookery lessons, we went to see a nutritionist and doctors. They helped us out with life skills, as well as the training side of things.

Joining the academy was the best decision I could've made. I was thinking about going abroad when I was 18-years-old. When you join the academy you learn about yourself and how to look after yourself properly. It definitely helps now that I'm doing more things for myself. They've got a physio there as well so you can get a rub once or twice a week. There's also a psychologist that you can go and see if you need to. Along with that you're exposed to top training ideas which aim to make you the best rider in the world.

The academy helped me out a lot. They got me my first professional ride with team Barloworld. I raced in Australia with them and then went to a training camp and did another race for them in Italy. I think that helped me. I don't know if I could've done that without the academy setup. The UK is the best country in the world at the moment for looking after its riders. No stone is left unturned.

RYG: Not everybody can be an Olympic athlete but why do you think kids should get involved in cycling?

GT: It's a great way to travel and meet new people. If you're a successful rider then you get to experience different cultures. Even if you don't become a top athlete you can still enjoy it. It's just a really good sport. The injuries aren't too bad unless you crash quite a lot, which I generally do (laughs). It's good fun and it's really social. You can get out with your mates and go wherever you want. It also keeps you really fit.

RYG: Who were your sporting heroes when you were growing up?

GT: I won my first big race in 1997 when I was 11. That was when Jan Ulrich won the Tour de France, so I've always looked up to him. Seeing Lance Armstrong do what he did was inspiring. Now I know a bit more about cycling I can appreciate what a talented rider he was. He's definitely one of the biggest idols I have.

On the track there are people like Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins. They won gold at the last Olympics and I've gotten to know them quite well over the last few years. They're really good guys and you see that they're just normal people. But you also see how dedicated they are to their job.

Riding with Brad in the team pursuit was an honour. I'm learning from him all the time. At the Olympics Chris was last off. Four people had broken the World record before him. To go out and still produce the goods under all that pressure was awesome. Talking to him about how he deals with the mental side of things has been really good for me.

RYG: What advice did he give you?

GT: He told me to remember that it's just a race and to go out there and do my best.

RYG: Some people may think of cycling as a solo sport - how important is teamwork if you want to be successful?

GT: It's massive. On the track I couldn't have won at the World Championships if the other three weren't good enough. For the team pursuit it's important to have four good riders. As well as that there are other riders who could have also ridden. It's important to be a tight knit group so if one person's feeling down the others can give them a lift.

On the road teamwork is massive. I don't think people realise how important the team is. Lance Armstrong couldn't have done what he did in the Tour de France without his team. He had the best team in the world to help him. It's just as important as with a football team. The whole team wins the game. That's what cycling is about.

RYG: What advice would you give to children that want to be a professional cyclist or sportsperson?

GT: I'd say just enjoy it - that's the main thing. You can't go out and train on the road for six hours in the rain if you don't enjoy it. You need to be committed and stay focussed on what you've got to do. Try and be as professional as you can about it. Set yourself some goals and targets to aim for, and try and always take it up to the next level.

RYG: What are your goals and targets for the future?

GT:I want to get stronger on the road, which will stand me in good stead for the Olympics. I'd like to ride in some of the big races in Europe. My team got a wild card entry into the Tour de France. It's the biggest bike race in the world, so to be a part of that will be something special.


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