Geraint Thomas hopes those tipping him to shine in Giro d’Italia will be proved right
Geraint Thomas knows there would be no better answer to the debate over his absence from the Tour de France than for him to win the Giro d’Italia over the next three weeks.
A little more than six weeks after the Ineos Grenadiers named a Tour squad without the Welshman, Thomas will set about trying to justify that call when the Giro begins with a short time trial into Palermo on Saturday.
Thomas made the Tour his primary goal for this season but was short of form in the Criterium du Dauphine in August. Rather than race in a support role he recalibrated and arrived in Sicily this week as the favourite to be wearing the pink jersey in Milan come October 25.
“It’s nice when you hear people say I’m a favourite but at the end of the day I don’t think about it,” Thomas said. “I’ve just come here in the best shape I could, and I’ll race the best way I can and hope they’re right.”
Debate over the Ineos selection for the Tour – which saw both Thomas and four-time Tour winner Chris Froome omitted – has never gone away, only increasing when their defending champion Egan Bernal faded and then withdrew with a back injury he took into the race.
But for all the outside noise, the team have always insisted it was a joint decision.
“This is the first time we’ve seen each other and he just punched me in the mouth as I walked in,” team principal Sir Dave Brailsford joked.
“No. We’ve known each other for a long time. People either misconstrued or maybe misunderstood the whole thing around the Tour. People saw it as a non-selection, it’s not a non-selection…It’s about how you best allocate your resources.”
The course certainly suits Thomas, with three time trials contributing to his status as favourite, while there is uncertainty the race will make it over all of the mountains as snow closes in on a race shifted from its usual slot on the calendar in May.
Thomas warmed up with fourth in the world time trial race last week, coming on the back of finishing second at Tirreno-Adriatico last month.
Tirreno was won by Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates who is, along with two-time Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali, now seen as the man most likely to deny Thomas as Britain starts the race with two of the three main contenders.
It was in the 2018 Giro that Yates made his breakthrough, his 13 days in pink proving the catalyst for his victory in the Vuelta a Espana later that year.
“(In 2018) we really went after it from the beginning, we were really aggressive from the start,” the 28-year-old said.
“I wanted to take the jersey. Already in the Vuelta that year I learned to be more calm, to really try to take the race to the end and that’s what we want to try to do here.”
After a Tour loaded with talent, there is a feeling the Giro field is weaker in this coronavirus-jumbled season. Nibali, at 35, would be the oldest ever winner if he can add to his 2013 and 2016 crowns, while Thomas would not be far off at 34.
Steven Kruijswijk, Jakob Fuglsang and Rafal Majka are the other names to leap off the start list.
Britain has nine entrants in all. Tao Geoghegan Hart and Ben Swift will line up behind Thomas for the Ineos Grenadiers, while James Knox is ready to test himself for Deceuninck-QuickStep after a top-10 showing at Tirreno-Adriatico.
It could be just the tonic after obituaries for an era of British dominance were written during the Tour.
“Thomas and Yates are going for the overall and I think quite possibly could come home with the pink jersey which makes those comments about the Tour laughable,” Knox told the PA news agency.
“The level of success Britain has had at the Tour has been quite unbelievable so it’s quite normal that as guys start to move on it’s going to be hard for the next generation – and I put myself in there – to fill those boots but there are quality guys coming through.”