‘There’s no stupid time trial up a mountain’ - Geraint Thomas should not be counted out of this year’s Giro d’Italia

The British rider may not have stand-out performances so far this year but with a lack of pressure, his experience and a route that suits him, we should consider another Thomas surprise

No one expected Geraint Thomas to win the Tour de France six years ago. The Welshman was never supposed to take the yellow jersey after an emphatic solo victory atop the final ascent to La Rosiere on stage 11, and he definitely wasn’t supposed to hold on to it until the Champs-Élysées. Half a decade later, when Thomas was in the twilight of his career, he wasn’t supposed to be the rider pushing Primož Roglič to the very end of the 2023 Giro d’Italia, only narrowly missing out on winning the pink jersey in the final time trial. But the 37-year-old has a way of surprising us, over and over again.

As the 2024 edition of La Corsa Rosa is just days away, all talk is around UAE Team Emirates’ prodigious talent, Tadej Pogačar being the stand-out favourite for victory. If the Slovenian rider wins, it will be in line with everyone’s expectations of the race. If he loses, then there will be a story. Such expectation comes with heavy weight for Pogačar who – although he is outwardly unflappably calm and collected – will surely be feeling the pressure as the grande partenza approaches. The Ineos Grenadiers and Geraint Thomas, however, who many have disregarded as contenders for the maglia rosa, are able to step back, relax and watch how things unfold. Thomas himself admits that this could be part of what helps him to success in this year’s Giro d’Italia.

“I don’t think that first place is gone, if anything [Pogačar being the favourite] takes the pressure off because everyone expects him to win and they don’t expect us to do anything so there’s no pressure from that side of things,” Thomas told media a few days before the start of the Giro. 

“We’re confident. The main thing was getting me in good shape then you just do what you can. It’s a massive task because Pogačar is a phenomenal bike rider and like I said before, probably one of the greatest ever. But we’re relishing the challenge, UAE Team Emirates have a strong team but so do we. It’s the Giro, a lot can go good and go bad, as we all know. We’re excited.”

Thomas was also quick to point out that his preparation for this year’s race has been better than it was in 2023 when he suffered an infection leading up to the race. He explained that his training for the Giro in 2024 has been much more “straightforward” and that he feels "strong" coming towards the start in Venaria Reale on the weekend. The Welsh rider’s results so far this season haven’t yet indicated that he is in Giro d’Italia winning form, but Thomas’ experience on how and when to time his peak for a Grand Tour should not be underestimated.

In addition, year’s Giro d’Italia route is well-suited to Ineos Grenadiers rider. He’s someone who often suffers in the chaotic, crash-filled stages that traditionally come early in Grand Tour stages, victim to mishaps and bad luck on multiple occasions. With a tough summit finish coming as early as stage two in 2024 Giro, the stress and high-risk of a fresh peloton should be lessened.

“You need to be good from start to finish. There’s some big mountain stages early on [the second stage finishes on first-category Oropa climb which spans 11.8km and has an average gradient of 6.2%] which are nice as it settles the race down quite early on,” Thomas said. “In traditional Tours de France, for instance, they have the big long flat days for the first four or five days, but here it’s nice to get a bit of tiredness in the peloton straightaway. I think in the Giro you have to be good the whole way through.”

There is also a total of 68.2 kilometres of time trialling in the Giro route from stages seven and 14, something that Thomas will be relishing. The Welsh rider regularly performs well against the clock and it’s where he has been able to take advantage over some of his rivals who are pure climbers in previous Grand Tours.

“This year’s route fits me alright. There’s a few longer time trials, not some stupid thing up the mountain this year,” Thomas laughed, referencing last year’s Giro in which Roglič took the pink jersey from him on the penultimate uphill time trial. “Every Grand Tour is hard, I guess the climbs are not as steep this year in general which should suit me a bit better. There are two long TTs I can take advantage of but obviously Tadej is quite good at those as well.”

Thomas appeared characteristically relaxed and understated as he spoke, with a sense of calm that only a rider of his stature and experience could muster a few days out from starting a Grand Tour. While the Welshman is acutely aware of Pogačar’s threat and status as the race favourite, he also seems quietly confident in his own ability to tackle a three-week race. Thomas is aware that Grand Tours are about playing the long game, and knows from his own luck and misfortune that no one ever really can be sure what to expect. Winning the Giro d’Italia is a tall order for Thomas, but so was winning the Tour in 2018, and so was finishing second in la corsa rosa last year. He specialises in exceeding expectations.

“Every year is different, every race is different,” Thomas said. “I feel like I’ve done everything I can to be in a good place now so I’m just going to get out there, race the race.”

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