Geraint Thomas and his golden-pink opportunity in Giro d’Italia ‘bonus round’
On the brink of his 37th birthday and with rumors of retirement, Thomas could be on track for his best chance yet at winning the maglia rosa.
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Relatively few people forecasted seeing Geraint Thomas in the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia this month, and even the Welshman himself didn’t expect to be handed the maglia rosa after only one week of racing.
But now Thomas has claimed an unlikely lead in this year’s Giro, he could be the rider with the best odds at wearing that prized jersey in Roma in two weeks’ time.
“I thought I’d be going into the final week with minutes to make up. To be in the jersey now, the first rest day, I definitely didn’t think that was going to happen,” Thomas told the press during the Ineos Grenadiers team conference Monday.
The shock overnight exit Sunday of COVID-addled Remco Evenepoel re-shaped the corsa rosa entirely.
It shifted the race’s center of orbit and handed the 36-year-old Thomas his best chance yet at adding the Giro d’Italia to his Tour de France grand tour palmarès.
Thomas vowed he would pull on pink for the Giro’s 10th stage Tuesday out of respect for the race and as a nod to the friend and enemy he playfully branded the “little bastard.”
“It’s not really the way you want to take the jersey, but that’s what’s happened, and I’ll wear it with pride,” Thomas said.
“It’s the first time I’ve worn a pink jersey, but it’s definitely not the way you want to take it. I wish Remco well and hope he’s back soon.”
No pressure: ‘This is just a bonus round’
Thomas took Evenepoel’s vacant spot at the top of the GC rankings Monday, and his Ineos Grenadiers teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart moves to third, five seconds back.
The team has three more riders in the top-20 in what makes for an embarrassment of climbing riches.
Currently second overall, Primož Roglič looks the most likely challenger to Ineos Grenadiers scoring its fourth maglia rosa in six years.
“I don’t really feel too much pressure or expectation to be honest. I’d love to take this opportunity,” Thomas said Monday.
“A lot of people seem to write me off, but I felt like I just proved all that wrong last year [ed – when he finished 3rd at the Tour de France]. So this is just a bonus round so to speak.”
And beyond a first Ineos grand tour win since Egan Bernal won pink in 2021, this Giro means something more for Thomas.
The 36-year-old had muted retiring at the end of the season but is rumored to be discussing a two-year extension with the team he raced for since 2010.
“It would be amazing [to win],” Thomas said. “After 2020 I thought that would be it for my chances to win the Giro. But whatever happens, happens. I’ve got my palmarès and I’d absolutely love to add it to them, without a doubt.”
Thomas was forced out of his past two efforts at the corsa rosa.
He was squeezed into a stationary moto on the roads to Blockhaus in 2017 and saw a stray water bottle take him down three years later.
Fast forward to the present, and despite a spring derailed by illness, this year’s Giro might be Thomas’ best chance yet at adding the pink jersey to his packed out palmarès.
And it comes perfectly timed in what is an 18th grand tour that could be his last.
“I just want to enjoy this race and see where we can go,” he said. “Stage 18 will be my birthday. I will be 37, so we will see what happens.”
‘The race is only just starting’
Thomas brings almost a decade more racing experience to the Italian tour than 20-something rivals like João Almeida and Aleksandr Vlasov.
He was the 10th oldest rider in the peloton when the race rolled out last weekend, and would become the oldest Giro winner on record if he brings pink to the race’s Roma finale.
And like he showed in his “best of the rest” ride behind the Jonas Vingegaard-Tadej Pogačar lockdown in last year’s Tour de France, Thomas isn’t letting age get in his way.
“I’ve done plenty of years racing. And I tend to be pretty consistent and to be able to back up and be strong in the third week,” he said. “But with the slow build up, the thinking was that I could hopefully be at my very best for that last week, and we’re still hoping that’s the case.”
In a race that will be won in the third week, the Welshman eyes opportunity in a quiet season so far and an engine he knows can be slow to warm.
“The race is only just starting. We’re halfway through, but we’ve got at least five big mountain stages to come,” he said. “I’ve missed a lot of training, and it’s been really stop-start. But I still put in the work when I’ve been able to and that’s really paying off now.”
Thomas hopes his blazing time trial Sunday and resilient ride on Roglič’s wheel two days before bodes well for the brutal third week through the mountains.
“More of a build-up is what I’m used to with the Tour and everything. I think it’s probably been a blessing almost,” he said of his bumpy ride through spring.
COVID and co-leadership
Thomas and Geoghegan Hart know Roglič, Almeida, Vlasov and the rest of the GC pack aren’t their only opponents at this Giro.
Ineos Grenadiers’ Italian stallion Filippo Ganna is among the six riders forced out of the corsa rosa with COVID, and it feels inevitable the virus could wipe more out of the race at the twist of a medical swab.
Ineos Grenadiers is ready to go back to the future with old practices of masks, distancing, and sanitizing.
And just like how Thomas won the 2018 Tour de France out of Chris Froome’s shadow, he and Geoghegan Hart will “let the road decide” who becomes the protected carriage in the team’s train for the hardest days to come.
“Knowing myself and my body, and how I judge my efforts, is definitely a big plus, but I think our biggest strength is how everyone’s going in the team at the moment,” Thomas said.
“Me and Tao are in a great position,” he continued. “I’m leading the race but … at the moment I think it’s kind of even. If Tao’s more likely to win of course I’ll help him, and I’m sure he’ll be feeling the same thing.”
Thomas rolls out of Scandiano for stage 10 wearing the maglia rosa Tuesday.
The Welshman has been overlooked before, but nobody will be looking past a pink-clad Welshman now.