Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) has admitted that he hopes his switch from track to road racing is permanent, and that if he goes to the 2016 Rio Olympics it will be to ride the road events rather than the team pursuit, in which he is a double gold medallist.
“I’m leaving the track behind now, hopefully permanently,” he said in Doha before stage one of the Tour of Qatar. “I’d love to ride the road race and time trial in Rio, but not to make up the numbers – only if I’m in with a chance.”
The Welshman is a member of Team Sky’s ‘Classics Group,’ who remained in Adelaide after the Tour Down Under, arriving in Qatar late last Thursday. From here they will travel back to Europe and have a week off before a training camp in Tenerife that will see them skip Paris-Nice and Tirreno Adriatico.
The Tenerife camps were credited as a major factor in Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win last season, not least because the conditions, and climbing, replicate those found in France in July.
But as a place to go to prepare for one-day races held in northern Europe in March, the benefits appear less obvious.
“There is the weather, but it’s about committing to the programme,” said Thomas. “Tim [Kerrison, the team's head of performace support] is a clever guy, and he looked at what Brad needed for the Tour. Obviously the Classics are totally different, but we’ll be doing training specific to the type of things you need for the Classics.”
Servais Knaven, the team’s sports director, elaborated: “Tenerife is different to Belgium, it’s true, but in March it’s not that warm, so there’s not a big difference in temperature. They’ll look for climbs that are similar to the Flemish ones, but I think a training camp is the best preparation. It’s something new.”
Thomas was bullish about the potential gains. No one else has tried it, he said, because “it’s the typical cyclist mentality; they do what they used to do in the Merckx era. Cycling’s like that. No one wore skinsuits in road races. We started doing that three years ago and all of a sudden everyone’s got one.”
The Tour of Flanders is the Classic that “excites me most,” added Thomas. “That’s the one I enjoy the most, and that I’ve got the best result in so far.”
As Knaven said, they have other cards to play: Edvald Boasson Hagen in Flanders and Roubaix; Ian Stannard and Mat Hayman in Roubaix. It gives them strength in numbers and should allow them to take a different approach to previous years, when the now departed Juan Antonio Flecha was the team’s leader in the cobbled classics.
“I told them that when I won Roubaix I was not the best rider that day, by far,” said Knaven, the Paris-Roubaix winner in 2001. “There were maybe four or five riders who were stronger than I was, but I had a strong team around me, with a strong leader [Johan Museeuw] who was happy for me to win. That’s also important and that’s what we try to create: a solid group who are happy for their teammates to win.”
Thomas thinks Flecha’s departure will be to their advantage. “A guy like Flecha had has his own personal ambitions and I think with him leaving it is similar to when Brad crashed out of the Tour [in 2011]. Everyone sort of came up then and had a free role; Edvald won stages, Rigo had a chance of [the] white [jersey for best young rider]. Now a lot of more people are thinking, ‘I can actually get some of my own results.’ We are all pushing for the same goals.”