“We’ve only had half of it,” Geraint Thomas playfully retorts when asked what he’s done on his rest day at 2:30pm. It’s the answer of a man who – with each passing race and the ups and downs of an already-storied career – has learned to try as best he can to take it all in stride.
“We got up late,” he continued of how he was spending his ‘day off’. “At 10 I went to breakfast. I had arepa, it’s a South American bread thing with some poached eggs, tomatoes … lovely, bit different. Then I went out [to ride] for an hour and a half, back at the hotel had a coffee. We made them ourselves, didn’t stop at a cafe with this whole Covid thing. Sat in the sun. At least [the coffee] was free.”
If you’re looking to gauge how the Welshman is getting on having been handed the pink jersey due to the misfortune of the former maglia rosa Remco Evenepoel testing positive for coronavirus, that quote is the most telling. He’s focused on the enjoyment of small things. A different breakfast, not having to chuck €2 at an espresso. His way of being is a lesson to us all, and his namaste era is a lot less galling than fellow star veteran Aaron Rodgers’ ayahuasca-based darkness retreats. But beneath the good-natured demeanor, he’s focused, alert to all challenges within the peloton and without.
“We just need to try and be a lot more aware of it,” Thomas elaborated on COVID-19 rearing its head again within the peloton. “Go back to what we used to do when we were in our own little bubble, wearing masks in public spaces. As a team we’ll go back to that sort of strategy and if everyone does that we’ll hopefully stop other riders going home. It’s really disappointing for the race.”
Evenepoel had messaged him just before the official announcement to let him know he was passing the jersey on. Thomas thought the ‘little bastard’ (his words, spoken in Instagram comments and soon-to-be-vacated time trial hot seats) was pranking him. Just like their exploits on the road, the aging stars can’t seem to figure out what their replacements are up to. To them, everything is a game.
“I was shocked obviously,” Thomas says of Evenepoel’s COVID-19 positive. “He messaged me just before the announcement. At first I thought whether he was winding me up after the whole Roglič thing as well. It’s a huge disappointment for the race and it might sound weird but [it was disappointing] even for myself. I was looking forward to a good GC battle, not just with Remco and Roglič but the others. It was a huge disappointment.”
Humility and breakfast anecdotes will only get you so far, though. Now Ineos have a bike race to win, and although Evenepoel’s departure makes it easier than it would have otherwise been, Thomas knows there’s a lot of road left.
“We’re in a great position as a team, not just me and Tao but the three other guys [Thymen Arensman, Laurens De Plus and Pavel Sivakov – who are all within two minutes of Thomas in the overall classification].
“They’re all in good shape. They’re there or thereabouts, so I think if the lead does change we have a few cards to play and that strength will be very useful.”
But what about him and Geoghegan Hart, who sits third, five seconds behind his teammate?
“With me and Tao, we’re still sort of co-leaders … obviously I’ve got the jersey but he’s close behind. Roglič is close, the top 10 is still close. We haven’t done a mountaintop finish yet.” [Ed. – they have, but the Campo Imperatore was, in Thomas’ own words, a “stalemate” after a headwind made for defensive racing.]
Thomas says he will wear the pink jersey on Tuesday. Some had suggested that he may wait to pull it on until after stage 10, letting its absence pay respect to the road World Champion and his misfortune. But from his time in yellow Thomas understands intimately what a Grand Tour leader’s jersey means, and that it should be on display throughout the race. Plus, this will be the first time it’s been on the Welshman’s shoulders.
“It’s a massive honour but it’s not how you want to take the jersey … but it’s what happened and that’s the way it is. I’ll wear it with pride and it’s the first time I’ve worn the pink jersey. I wish Remco well.”
Back to him and Tao, how does he see that potentially unfolding with two teammates so close to the top of the pile?
“Me and Tao are in a great position,” Thomas answers. “Ok, I’m leading the race but as soon as someone stands out as the most likely to win … at the moment I think it’s kind of even. But if Tao’s more likely to win of course I’ll help Tao, and I’m sure he’ll be feeling the same thing.”
As Thomas said, we are still yet to hit the heavy mountains, and he’s making a good effort to take this all in his stride. He explains his experience will count for a lot as he makes his way through the race.
“It is strange,” he continues of finding himself in the pink jersey. “I thought I’d be going into the final week with minutes to make up. I still could have that, but [arriving] at the first rest day in the pink jersey, I didn’t think this was going to happen. I’ve done plenty of years of racing and I’m normally pretty consistent and third week tends to be strong as well. I hope I can still be at my very best in the third week.”
Another funny anecdote follows where Thomas reveals that João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) told him mid-race on stage 8 that his legs were shit, but when the Portuguese rider finished well that day, Thomas jokily confronted him the next day to call bullshit on his protestations, to which Almeida laughs.
The Welshman then thanks one reporter for mentioning something he’d said on his own Watts Occurring podcast. Just like how he’s learned a deep understanding of his own body and limits over the years, his foray into the media has honed how he communicates and shows off his personality; he knows exactly how to give the media just enough that they come away with some information, but never too much.
“I don’t really feel too much pressure or expectation to be honest,” he says of the next two weeks. “I’d love to take the opportunity. A lot of people seem to just write me off or whatever but I feel I just proved all that wrong last year and now this is just bonus round so to speak. Just enjoy racing my bike, when you get to the end of your career you realise how lucky you are to race your bike and that it won’t last forever, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Gazzetta dello Sport reported today that Thomas may choose to extend again with the Ineos Grenadiers for another year or two, and you can imagine because he’s successfully defended his place atop the GC pecking order at the British squad there may be less contract wrangling than there was the last time he had to re-sign.
‘What would it be like to win the Giro?’ comes the last question, read out by the press officer.
“‘At your age’ … you didn’t say that bit,” Thomas says to him, pointing out the missing words from the question. If Thomas– who turns 37 three days before the final stage in Rome – does manage to pull it off he’d be the oldest Giro winner ever: a solid two and a half years older than Fiorenzo Magni, who was exactly 34 and a half when he won his third Giro in 1955.
“It would be amazing,” he admits. “After 2020, I thought that would be it for my chance to win the Giro, but as I said before whatever happens happens and I’ve got the palmarès I have but I’d love to add to it without a doubt. Stage 18 will be my birthday, I’ll be 37, we’ll see what happens.”
Thomas is ready to roll with the punches, and without tempting fate, you sense he feels luck may finally be on his side.
What did you think of this story?