Geraint Thomas eyes Tour de France gain after Giro d'Italia pain

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport
Geraint Thomas says wedding business is nice change from cycling

Geraint Thomas is meant to be in Italy, scaling the peaks of its daunting mountains as the Giro d'Italia draws to a close this weekend.

Instead, after being forced to withdraw from the race prematurely, the cyclist is sat outside a grand country house, bathed in rare Welsh sunshine.

This is the impressive property in the leafy outskirts of Chepstow that Thomas has bought with his wife Sara and turned into a wedding venue, which Sara and her parents run while the cycling season is in full swing.

Turning 31 on Thursday, this is a rather more tranquil setting for Thomas' birthday celebration than a long ride along the undulating hillsides of northern Italy.

Yet even 1,000 miles from the tumult of the Giro, his knees still bear the scars of the crash which forced him out of the race.

"I still avoid looking back at it. Whenever I see the race on TV, I turn over straight away or if I see it on Twitter I don't want to hear about it," Thomas says.

"It's still quite depressing to think about how it ended. All that hard work and for it to be going well, for it to be ended through no fault of my own, or the team or another rider, was really frustrating."

Geraint Thomas
Geraint Thomas won two Olympic gold medals on the track before focusing on road racing

The Giro was Thomas' first chance to lead Team Sky at a Grand Tour, one of cycling's three most prestigious road races alongside the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana.

Everything appeared to be going according to plan in the early stages, as the Welshman sat comfortably in second place, ready to make his move.

However, on Sunday 14 May, disaster struck when Dutchman Wilco Kelderman was unable to avoid a police motorbike that had stopped at the side of the road, prompting a chaotic pile-up of riders which included the Team Sky contingent.

As much as Thomas may try to avoid thinking about the Giro, is he not beset with questions of 'what if'; how he might have fared had the crash not happened?

"Yeah, that's the bit that sort of eats away at you," he says.

"To not lose so much time was encouraging, the time trial went really well but from that point I wasn't getting any better - my knee was getting more sore and it was just a case of doing it just to finish, whereas my aim was to win the race.

"I was chatting to Dave [Brailsford, Team Sky principal] and he pointed out I'm in that point of my career where I need to target the big hits."

'Mixing it up' at the Tour de France

As well as the damage to his knees, Thomas sustained a shoulder injury in the crash which has required extensive physiotherapy treatment.

Another fall on the shoulder could mean he would need surgery to repair it but, for the time being, it is an ailment he can manage as he turns his attention to the next Grand Tour and the most illustrious of them all, the Tour de France.

Cycling's showpiece event is a stage on which Thomas has shone in the past, garnering a reputation as one of the sport's finest 'super domestiques' as he has helped team-mate Chris Froome win the previous two titles.

Thomas will return to that supporting role when the Tour starts in July but now, having had a taste of leading Team Sky at the Giro, he admits it will be a little strange to relinquish the status of being the top rider.

"Yeah, for sure, it's certainly given me that sense of unfinished business. I didn't get that chance to prove what I can do," he adds.

"Luckily, there's three Grand Tours in a year, so next year there's the option of doing the Giro and the Vuelta.

"I think to do back-to-back Grand Tours, the second one you're not going to be at your best, so to do the Giro and the Tour, the Tour is never going to be as good - unless you crash out of the Giro!"

Thomas bursts into laughter at this point, a show of characteristic self-deprecation.

However, his modesty should not obscure the fact that he is a fierce, world-class competitor.

Thomas will be at the Tour to support Froome but, with experience of leading and aspirations of doing it again, he will not simply lie in his team-mate's shadow in France.

"I still think I'll get the chance to try and do something," says Thomas.

"If I'd done the whole Giro, I would have purely gone to the Tour 100% for Froomey and sat out days, lost some time and targeted days we really needed me.

"But having done half the Giro, I'll be in just as good a shape as I was for the Giro hopefully. That's the plan - hopefully it will give us another card to play.

"Obviously Froomey will still be the main guy but maybe I can mix it up a bit as well."

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