To appreciate what Geraint Thomas achieved on the wet streets of Düsseldorf on 1 July 2017, it’s interesting to consider what racing the Tour de France was like for him 10 years ago.
By
Rob Arnold

2 Jul 2017 - 9:26 AM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2017 - 9:49 AM

“If you love something and work hard enough, if you’re good at school, anything can happen.”

Geraint Thomas had been through a volley of interviews as any new leader of the Tour de France does. He found his message and repeated it from one network to the next. But he concluded his press conference with an answer to a 10-year-old ‘jeune reporter’ who asked: “How old were you when you started riding your bike?”

“The same age as you,” he replied. “I was 10.”

The innocence of the question almost disarmed him. The reality of what he had the potential to do struck in an instant. Rather than follow on with the repetition of previous answers delivered to journalists he wanted to add an extra message for the young reporter to consider.

“If you’re good at school anything can happen.”

It’s not a statement offered often at the Tour de France but it came to ‘G’ at the end of the long interview session.

Be good and you can be good.

 

From 2007 to 2017

Geraint Thomas has been good for many years. He made his debut in the Tour de France as the youngest rider in the race 10 years ago, but he doesn’t have fond memories of the occasion. It was a torture session for the Welshman, which almost ended when he drifted off the back of the peloton one hot day on the road to Montpellier in 2007.

A few years ago, when ‘G’ had begun turning himself from team pursuit specialist to GC rider, he talked to me about a moment in his debut Tour that could have changed his life’s direction. He was born to be a bike racer but the toll the Tour was taking almost forced him to concede.

“When I think I’m tired now, it’s like, ‘Actually, I’m not that tired… just remember the 2007 Tour…’ After stage five I was already feeling like I was completely broken. By the first rest day I had blisters everywhere. My arms and knees… everything was just aching. Never again have I suffered like that!”

His recollection of the Tour of 2007 offers background into what makes his accomplishments since those distant days with the Barloworld team so impressive. He wanted to abandon. He almost did… but a voice in the back of his head urged him on.

Be good and you can be good.

“The day that Robbie Hunter won [in Montpellier in 2007]. It all split in the crosswinds… I was absolutely at my maximum just holding the wheel in front of me. We were the back group with Charlie Wegelius... I looked at him and said, ‘There’s no way I can go anymore…’ and I freewheeled for a split second.

“I was, like, ‘Oh shit no! What am I doing'? I got out of the saddle, sprinted, got back on the wheel and stayed there holding on for grim life. That was my worst day on my worst Tour ever.”

He’s been good since then. He’s won Olympic gold. He’s been an asset as a domestique for two Tour winners during his time at Sky. He’s fractured his pelvis on day one of the race… and raced through to the finish alongside the champion. He’s had bad days since 2007.

But in Düsseldorf in 2017 – in a career that continues to unravel (and, quite obviously, improve) – he may have had his best day on his best Tour ever.

Who knows what’s yet to come.

Advantage: Team Sky after Dusseldorf soaking
Team Sky made the most of the wet conditions on Stage 1 of the 2017 Tour de France, placing four riders in the top ten and claiming the yellow jersey.
Thomas in yellow as Valverde crashes out
A wet day in Dusseldorf wasn't enough to dampen the party atmosphere as the Tour de France kicked off with a Stage 1 time trial victory and yellow jersey for Geraint Thomas (Team Sky).

Through the line of questioning – before answering the 10-year-old – he spoke about how he still wanted to work for Chris Froome, about how he was happy about the victory of the British and Irish Lions against the All-Blacks in New Zealand earlier in the day, about how he really thought one of the 44 riders who started their time trials after him would eclipse his time…

He spoke about a lot of things but he didn’t talk of suffering, or surrender, or backing down despite the rain. He knew he was in good form, that the course suited his strengths, that he had prepared well, and that an opportunity was on offer.

He’s no longer at the back of the peloton struggling to follow. He’s no longer 'holding on for grim life'. He’s the first Welshman to be leader of the Tour de France.

If you’re good, anything can happen.