Monthly Archives: June 2020

Geraint Thomas on Chris Froome’s future

Geraint Thomas says it would be “nice to continue” being team-mates with four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome, who has been linked with a move away from Team Ineos.

READ MORE: Thomas on Froome’s future and Tour leadership

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Tour de France: Geraint Thomas ready for battle to lead Team Ineos

Geraint Thomas says it would be “nice to continue” being team-mates with Chris Froome

Geraint Thomas was meant to be preparing for Saturday’s opening stage of the Tour de France, the start of a gruelling three-week crusade to reclaim the title he won in 2018.

But now cycling’s most prestigious race has been postponed until late August, Thomas and his Team Ineos colleagues are adapting to their new reality at a training camp near Nice.

In some respects, the life of an elite cyclist has not changed too drastically.

“Lockdown is kind of how we live our lives anyway in a sad way,” Thomas tells BBC Sport Wales.

“When we’re training, we train on the road, we go home, we eat, we rest, we sleep and we do it again.”

And while social distancing and other coronavirus-related measures have altered their working environment, the essence of Team Ineos remains.

Whether the Grand Tour season is in full swing or a global pandemic has put cycling on hold for three months, the sport’s rumour mill is dominated by speculation about Ineos’ leadership.

The expensively assembled ensemble, formerly known as Team Sky, have produced seven of the Tour’s past eight champions, with Chris Froome claiming four of those victories.

His most recent was back in 2017, with Thomas triumphant in 2018 and Colombian prodigy Egan Bernal winning last year’s edition with Thomas in second place.

Froome missed that race after severely injuring himself in a crash but he is fit again now and ready to reclaim his crown, which poses an interesting – and familiar question – about who will lead Ineos at this year’s Tour.

“For me, it’s the same as always,” says Thomas. “Try to get there in the best shape possible and, if one of the boys is better than me, then that’s the job we’re in and you do what you and you’ve got to help them – and vice versa.

“That’s going to start up again and it’s been bubbling away for the last few months anyway – contracts, this and that, who’s going where and team dynamics and stuff. Hopefully, once we start racing, we can forget about everything else.”

‘The road will decide again’

Chris Froome (left) and Egan Bernal (right) with Geraint Thomas at the 2018 Tour de France
Chris Froome (left) and Egan Bernal (right) helped Geraint Thomas win the 2018 Tour de France

Thomas faced similar questions before last year’s Tour, when he and Bernal were named Ineos’ joint leaders, even though the Welshman was the defending champion and his then 22-year-old colleague was only competing in his second Tour.

Regardless of that gulf in experience, Thomas’ motto was “the road will decide”, that each rider would get a chance to prove his worth and earn the support of his teammates.

Froome eventually ceded to Thomas in 2018, and Thomas had to do the same for Bernal a year later.

Even with three champions vying for the leadership this time, Thomas believes that meritocracy will stay intact.

“I think everyone will get their fair chance because I think everyone can have a bad day and that doesn’t mean their Tour is suddenly over,” the 34-year-old says.

“We’ve done it many times now in the Tour. Not the best example but the first time was Brad [Wiggins] and Froomey [in 2012] and it could have been managed better – there was a bit of a fall-out there as we all know.

“But after that we’ve been able to do what’s needed and we’ve all been professional about it. I’m confident that can continue to happen.”

Froome’s future has been under scrutiny during cycling’s months of competitive inaction, with Israel Start-Up Nation reportedly leading the list of teams hoping to prise him away from Ineos.

Thomas was similarly sought-after following his Tour victory in 2018 and, while he can dismiss the transfer chatter as background noise, he would rather Froome stay.

“It does affect me indirectly but, at the same time, I’m not sat in bed at night thinking about that,” Thomas adds.

“I’ve been a team-mate of his since 2008 so obviously it would be nice to continue that. We get on well, we work well with each other, we’re honest with each other – brutally honest sometimes.

“But what will be will be and I just leave that to him, and just worry about going up the next hill as quick as I can.

“To see him riding his bike and doing efforts is really good to see because it was a horrendous crash he had. It’s great to see him back.”

Whoever it is leading Ineos at the Tour, this race will be unrecognisable from previous editions as cycling enters its post-coronavirus era.

It remains to be seen whether or not spectators will be allowed to attend, while the riders will need to apply their new socially distanced training methods to competitive racing.

“It’s strange,” Thomas says. “I don’t know what the plan is but maybe the start and finish areas will be completely different.

“I’m not sure how it’s all going to work. Fans on the side of the road – I don’t know how you police that.

“It would be a shame if we’re racing up those climbs without the normal frenzy and colours and noises and smells. That’s part of the Tour – that’s what makes it special.

“The Tour is still the main goal for me. The Criterium du Dauphine, which is the traditional build-up race to it, is on as well.

“It’s only five days instead of eight and it’s a bit closer to the Tour. We’ve got a three-day stage race before then which finishes with the same stage finish as the Tour, which is good.

“We’ll have two days off, then the Dauphine, a few more recons, a week off at home and then the Tour.

“So suddenly it will be boom and we’re back in it. I’m really looking forward to that.”

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Kanstantsin Sivtsov: Ex-Team Sky rider banned over EPO

Kanstantsin Sivtsov
Sivtsov won the under-23 road race at the 2004 World Championships

Former Team Sky rider Kanstantsin Sivtsov has been banned for four years for using erythropoietin.

The Belarusian, 37, was suspended after EPO was found in an out-of-competition sample in September 2018. He subsequently retired.

Sivtsov, who rode for Sky from 2012 to 2015, was part of the team that helped Briton Chris Froome win his first Tour de France in 2013.

At the time of his suspension Sivtsov was riding for Bahrain-Merida.

The ban – imposed following an International Cycling Union (UCI) anti-doping tribunal – expires on 4 September 2022.

EPO, a hormone produced naturally by the kidneys, can be made artificially and has been found to improve endurance in athletes.

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Could you be a future Para-cycling champion? Scott launches search for new partner for Tokyo

Sophie Thornhill celebrates (right) Commonwealth gold in 2018 with pilot Helen Scott
Pilot Helen Scott (left) celebrates winning Commonwealth gold in 2018 with Sophie Thornhill

British cyclist Helen Scott is hoping her dreams of getting the chance to retain her Paralympic title in 2021 will be realised after launching a search to find a new partner.

It comes after Sophie Thornhill announced her retirement, ending a six-year partnership which yielded eight world titles and the Paralympic gold.

Scott and British Cyclingexternal-link advertised the vacancy on social media on Monday.

She said: “Hopefully the person we get will be up for the challenge.”

Scott, who won the time trial B kilo title in Rio with Thornhill, is hoping to attract a tandem ‘stoker’ – the blind or visually impaired rider at the back of the bike.

The 29-year-old from Birmingham added: “To find visually impaired athletes is quite difficult because most of the top athletes are already in their sports and heading to Tokyo, but you’d be surprised.

“I think we’re going to have five or 10 for sure who are going to be able to test, and who knows what will come off the back of us putting out a wider announcement.”

Scott also revealed she and her new partner would face a race against time to make the team for next year’s rescheduled Paralympics.

“Sophie and I had qualified for Tokyo – our bike was on that plane – but this is different and we’d need to qualify for the World Championships which will hopefully go ahead in January, so there is a time limit on when we need these performances,” she said.

“It is going to be tough but what a story it could be. It’s such an inspiring place to be. I’m biased, but who wouldn’t want this opportunity?”

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Leah Dixon: Welsh cyclist makes do with virtual reality victory

Leah Dixon
Leah Dixon switched to cycling after injuries curtailed her athletics ambitions

Leah Dixon thought her dream of competing with the world’s best would become a reality this year – instead she has come out on top in the new cycling world of virtual reality.

The 28-year-old Welsh cyclist, riding for Team Tibco Silicon Valley Bank, won the first ever V-Women’s Tour by nearly 22 seconds on Friday night.

It was not the sort of victory Dixon – an athlete who only started riding in 2016 – envisaged after signing her first professional contract in January 2020.

The rider from Aberdare was, like her rivals and team-mates, looking forward to the real event.

Instead, that ambition fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic and waits for June 2021 to be fulfilled.

“I’m really pleased to have won the virtual women’s tour, it was a really intense few days of racing,” Dixon told BBC Sport Wales.

“We went into it with some team tactics, they didn’t necessarily go to plan to start with after my team-mate Lauren [Stephens] had a virtual mechanical on stage one [when the internet drops out so the avatar stops moving], but we were able to reframe and go again with a different plan.

“We were able to work together all the way to the line. Stage three was a very brutal criterium that never really calmed down. I spent a long time with a max heart rate of 190 and was just trying to hold on.

“It was really painful, I found the race really tough. I felt like from lap 15 I was just counting down the laps. It was really tough.”

Leah Dixon
Leah Dixon’s view of the road ahead was not what she had expected for 2020

The stage race, which has been held in Britain every year since 2014, was due to take place from 8-13 June.

“I didn’t really have that many expectations going into the race. I’ve done quite a bit of virtual racing in the past. I used to ride a lot on a turbo trainer, but when you’re in a race against professional cyclists that’s a completely different ball game,” said Dixon.

“I was pretty nervous and excited to be racing against some of my heroes and for me, the Women’s Tour was the race that I really wanted to do this year so I was really happy to be able to do it in some capacity.”

Dixon started cycling in 2016 having previously struggled with injuries while competing in athletics.

“I kept fit and concentrated on my education instead, and then I bought a road bike as a way of keeping fit and things snowballed from there,” she explained.

“I’m now in a really fortunate position to have support from Welsh Cycling and the Wales Racing Academy, as well as being on my first professional UCI team.”

Dixon also has a job working as a procurement manager, which she juggles alongside her cycling training.

“I have a reduced hours contract. I’m really lucky to be part of such a supportive environment both from Tibco Silicon Valley Bank and from a work perspective,” she said.

Dixon says this year has been a “roller-coaster” from the highs of getting her first professional contract for everything to change a few months later as Covid-19 struck.

“We were out in Belgium when the lockdown actually happened and I’d just done one of my first ever classics races and I was really excited to be in these races and racing against my heroes. That was when things slowly started to get cancelled,” she said.

“From a coaching perspective, we just decided to try and reframe things and not really aim for a specific race because what would happen if that then got cancelled?

“My goals are still to help Tibco Silicon Valley Bank to a successful season, do my job and learn the ropes as a new professional cyclist, but also to hopefully represent Great Britain one day, and to represent Wales at the Commonwealth Games, which, as far as we’re aware, is still in 2022.

“Even from when I was a junior athlete as a runner, I remember watching Wales compete in the Commonwealth Games and just being like ‘I want to be there’. I’d love to be there one day.”

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