• Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome on the 2018 Tour de France podium (Getty Images)
Take a look back at men's pro cycling over the last decade and one man's career tells the story of the evolution of cycling and Team Sky, writes Matthew Keenan.
By
Matthew Keenan

Source:
Cycling Central
30 Dec 2019 - 2:41 PM  UPDATED 30 Dec 2019 - 2:44 PM

In 2010, Team Sky won just one Grand Tour stage, thanks to Bradley Wiggins in the opening individual time trial at the Giro d’Italia.

They’ve now won the Tour seven times – with four different riders - the Giro once and the Vuelta twice.

Their budget has ballooned from a reported healthy £14 million (A$26 million) in 2010, to an eye watering £40 million (A$75 million).

Geraint Thomas started the decade a 23-year-old Olympic team pursuit gold medallist, targeting the cobblestoned classics and ended it, a Tour de France champion.

Tracking the decade through the career of the man affectionately known as “G” tells the story of the evolution of cycling and the team that has transformed from big hope to dominant force.

The Classics 

As Thomas embarked on Sky’s first season in 2010, his priority was the classics as the British squad built their Tour aspirations around Wiggins.

A winner of the Paris-Roubaix Juniors (2004), Roubaix and Flanders were high on his hit list. He finished 64th and 33rd respectively, as both races were won by Fabian Cancellara.

Cancellara’s battles with Tom Boonen became the story of the cobbled classics for the first half of the decade, while the likes of John Degenkolb, Greg van Avermaet, Niki Terpstra and Peter Sagan wrote the second half.

But for Thomas, it was a different story. Across six attempts, at Paris-Roubaix the Welshman’s best result was seventh, and at the Tour of Flanders, eighth.

Not many would have picked Thomas’ former classics domestique, Australian Mathew Hayman and Mitchelton-Scott to finish the decade with a Paris-Roubaix victory and Sky/Ineos/Thomas with neither of the two biggest cobbled classics.

Armstrong, Contador and Schleck 

At his second Tour de France, in 2010, G attracted little to no attention as the race left Rotterdam.

By contrast, it was standing room only at the Lance Armstrong pre-race media conference. Third the year before, behind “teammate” Alberto Contador many wondered if he could really challenge as the leader of RadioShack.

The race ended up being the Andy Schleck v Contador show and the Armstrong circus was a non-event.

‘Chain Gate’ was a major talking point on the back of Alberto’s attack when Schleck dropped his chain on Stage 15. But that would soon take a back seat to Steak Gate, when the Spaniard returned a positive test to clenbuterol.

WATCH: 'Chain-gate,' Schleck's stomach of anger and the Tourmalet duel

Contador’s contaminated steak defence didn’t stack up and after a protracted case he was finally stripped of the win with Schleck declared the 2010 Tour victor.

Meanwhile Thomas finished an uneventful 64th and Team Sky went home empty handed. Thomas Lofkvist was their best in 15th. Do you remember him?

And despite the Oprah confession in January 2013, Lance still pulls the numbers. His podcast, The Move, is the highest rating during the Tour.

Not to be left out, Thomas has also started a podcast, ‘Watts Occurring,’ with Luke Rowe.

I don’t remember talking about podcasts at the start of the decade.

The Loyal Domestique - Supporting Froome and Wiggins

In 2011, with Thomas playing the role of domestique, Wiggins won the Criterium du Dauphine and looked a serious Tour challenger. But he crashed out on Stage 7 and Sky’s top man became Rigoberto Uran, in 23rd, with Thomas their next best in 30th.

Crash or no crash for Wiggins, no one could deny Cadel Evans and Australian cycling history. Cadel won the Tour and more than 30,000 people welcomed him home to Federation Square.

Relive the 2011 Tour de France and Cadel Evans' victory

A cyclist closed the city down, talk-back radio didn’t air any complaints and people celebrated. Miracles do happen.

The start of the 2011 Vuelta saw the out of contract Chris Froome a late inclusion to support Wiggins.

Juan Jose Cobo won, Froome finished runner-up over Wiggins in third. For a while. In one of the longest running doping cases of all time Froome was declared the winner, in July of 2019.

Froome’s contract was extended and Sky was on its way. So too was the Froome, Wiggins relationship of friction.

Thomas raced the Giro d’Italia in 2012 finishing 80th behind Canada’s first Grand Tour winner, Ryder Hesjedal, and skipped the Tour to focus on the team pursuit at the London Olympics. It’s not the typical pattern of a future Tour winner. He won his second Olympic gold medal and Great Britain dominated cycling at the Games.

Wiggins won the Tour but only after Froome was forced to wait for him on Stage 11 and ended up second in Paris. And Twitter went into meltdown, as the soon to be Michelle Froome took to social media in her Chris’ defence. It was almost as dramatic as Married at First Sight.

Froome flourished in 2013, winning the Tour where ‘Froomey and Roomy’ was born as Richie Porte was his key support in the mountains.

Meanwhile Thomas showed his grit. Finishing that Tour in 140th doesn’t even begin to tell the story. The Welshman fractured his hip on Stage 1 but still made it to Paris. #tough

The following year Froome crashed out on Stage 5 of the Tour, and there was a glimmer of hope Porte could be the man to collect yellow for Sky. But it didn’t come together for the Australian as Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 edition and Thomas showed the first real signs of what was to come. He finished 22nd. Steady progress.

In 2015 with Thomas still somewhat cobble focused, Porte went to the Giro as Sky’s main man with a big camper van. A puncture and wheel from Simon Clarke (then riding for Orica-GreenEDGE), was the beginning of the end for Porte. the maglia rosa went to Alberto Contador, his seventh and final Grand Tour victory.

With Froome back at the Tour, Thomas was back on domestique duties and finished 15th.

The G Train was building momentum.

Seeking Leadership

At this point, Porte still looked the more likely Grand Tour winner. So the Tasmanian headed to BMC for a leadership role. Thomas stayed with Sky, now second fiddle to Froome, and a protected man for one week tours, proving fruitful in 2016 with his overall victory at Paris-Nice.

That year, Froome won the Tour again and Thomas finished 15th, again. Across at BMC, Porte was fifth overall, his best result at the Tour.

In 2017 it was G’s time to target a Grand Tour. Off to the Giro it was with pink on his mind. By the midway point it was all over, a DNS on Stage 13, as Tom Dumoulin gave the Dutch their first Grand Tour win since the 1980 Tour de France. And in the process he gave cycling one of its most talked about “nature breaks”.

Tour Glory 

When Froome declared the Giro his target for 2018, many of us, myself included, thought the window was open for a non-Sky rider to win the Tour. Froome won the Giro and arrived at the Tour with hopes of doing the double.

But in 2018 Thomas rode the perfect Tour de France. 14th Fourteenth on Stage 1, behind Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria, was just the beginning of the, “who’s the team leader” questions sent Team Sky’s way every day.

Thomas wore yellow into Paris, Tom Dumoulin was second and Froome third. From last on GC in 2008 to first in 2018, it was a fairytale.

What Next? 

As the decade comes to a close Thomas has added a second place finish at the Tour to his name, behind the first Colombian winner, 22-year-old teammate Egan Bernal.

In 2019 a 19-year-old, Remco Evenepoel, won Spain’s biggest one day race, Classica de San Sebastian, and at just 20, Tadej Pogacar was third overall at the Vuelta.

It’s been a big decade for Geraint Thomas. He started it as one of the young guys in the peloton, targeting the spring classics, and finishes as an elder statesman with a Tour de France win under his wheels.

But what comes next?

Who leads Team Ineos, in which race, in 2020? Chris Froome for Tour win number five? Does Egan Bernal get the support to defend his title? Who targets the Giro? What about the Vuelta… maybe the 22 year old Pavel Sivakov.

Whatever comes in the 20s the generation now bursting through will be exciting to watch as Thomas, Froome, Nibali and co fight to hold on and Jumbo-Visma shapes up as a challenger to Ineos.