Thomas’ terrific 2015 in six moments

Geraint Thomas (left) crosses the Tour de France finish line with winner and Team Sky leader Chris Froome

Thomas (left) enjoyed a memorable Tour de France, helping Chris Froome to overall victory

Winning a cobbled Classic. Coming within five seconds of victory in the Tour de Suisse. Chaperoning Chris Froome to his second Tour de France title, challenging in the mountains, surviving close encounters with telegraph poles, enduring a day of abject misery and celebrating afresh when Paris came at last.

It has been a year like no other for Geraint Thomas. Before 2015 slips away for good – and Team Sky’s traditional pre-Christmas training camp in Majorca already marks the start of their 2016 campaign – the Welshman provides the inside story of how it unfolded.

‘It’s not often you win your weight in beer’

27 March, Flanders, Belgium: Thomas becomes the first Briton to win the E3 Harelbeke, a 215km one-day race considered one of the hardest on the professional circuit.

I’d finished third the year before, so I knew it was a race that suited me, and with 10km to go I was away in a break with Zdenek Stybar and Peter Sagan, who had beaten me in 2014.

In a breakaway like that, it’s all about the calculations. How much work should you do at the front? You do just enough to keep the gap, but never more than the rider who is doing the least.

It’s like having a bag of pennies. The more effort you put in, the more you’re spending, and you want as many left as possible for the final few kilometres.

I could see that they looked tired, but they are such quality riders that I didn’t know if they were bluffing. Tired is the wrong word, because we were all in bits at that stage, but they seemed even worse than me.

The E3 – one of the eight “cobbled classics” – gave Thomas the biggest victory of his road career

You can quite easily talk yourself out of races. You can always think, I’m so tired, these guys must still be feeling good. And then you don’t do anything, it comes down to a sprint and you end up third.

The thing is to have the confidence to go for it. You can be feeling the best, but if you don’t get involved and commit, it will never happen. So with 4km to go, I thought, right: I’m just going to go, commit here, and we’ll see what happens.

I got away, and I stayed away. My first big Classics win. And part of my prize was winning my weight in beer, which doesn’t happen often in cycling.

‘Inside I think I’m a little fat boy trying to get out’

14 July, Tarbes to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, France: Thomas moves up to fifth overall in the Tour de France after a sixth-place finish behind stage winner Chris Froome in the race’s first summit finish.

I knew I was in in good shape going into the Tour, because I’d finished second in the Tour de Suisse two weeks before. I knew I’d moved on from the previous year. But it started really well and I was waiting for my bad day. When I got to the first rest day and was still there, and the second rest day and was still there…

I wanted one good day in the mountains. That was a big goal in my mind. To continue to be there was just great. The morale is great then, and the confidence flows, and it all builds.

Thomas’ prowess in the mountains saw him stay in touch with the leaders for most of the Tour

How did I do it? I was lighter than in previous years. And after the 2012 Olympics I committed full-time to the road – more endurance work, more climbing, not doing the track stuff in winter (that puts on weight), more dedicated training on the road. And it all paid off.

It’s finding the balance between being as light as possible, but also having that power. It takes a lot of hard work because inside I think I’m a little fat boy trying to get out. I have to keep him at bay most of the year, and in the off-season he’s allowed to let rip for a month or two.

In my chunkier days I used to dread the big climbs. This year I looked forward to it.

I heard a few whispers about my improvement on Twitter, but it doesn’t bother me. I know that what I do is the right way. For sure it hurts when some random guy questions what you’re doing, but if you look at my career, you can see the improvement all the way. Every year, the next step up.

‘Oh no, I’m going to hit that telegraph pole’

20 July, Descent of Col de Manse, Alps: French rider Warren Barguil crashes into Thomas, sending him off the road and down a ravine.

I didn’t know who it was. One minute I’m descending, the next I’m ‘T-boned’. Heading straight for a telegraph pole, and just knowing, ‘oh no, I’m going to hit that, but where am I going to hit it?’

I remember seeing people scarpering, and then just managed to twist my head to try to take away a little of the impact.

One moment you’re focusing on your line and getting down the descent safely, and the next you’re going down a ravine. Luckily there was some plastic taping that caught me after the pole had slowed me down, and one of the spectators pulled me up and out.

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Crowd helped me out of ditch – Geraint Thomas

It was actually a quick change. The mechanics got my spare bike off the roof, and I was up and back on it in 30 seconds. You don’t really think about it afterwards because of all the adrenaline. Then you get on the Sky bus after the stage, watch it back and think, ‘Wow, that’s a nice one…’

I didn’t look any further down the ravine. I’m not the biggest fan of heights, so it wouldn’t have been a good thing looking down.

And that’s what happens on every crash – you don’t think about where you are or what you’re doing, all you think about is where’s my bike, and let’s get going.

It’s when you can’t do that that you know you’re in trouble. When I fractured my pelvis in 2013 I just couldn’t get up. And when I did, I felt excruciating pain.

This crash was great, really. It was on TV, it looked spectacular and I was all right – apart from losing 40 seconds. As someone pointed out, Barguil actually finished 30 seconds ahead of me in the general classification come Paris. I still haven’t forgiven him.

It was more stressful for my wife Sara, who was commentating for S4C. The TV cameras went back to the front of the race, so nobody knew I was okay. Then Fran Millar, who works for Sky, rang Sa, who saw the name flash up on her phone and instantly assumed the worst.

She burst straight into tears. A scary, awkward moment in the commentary box for the other guys, because what can you say?

‘A banged-up old Citroen trying to race a Ferrari’

24 July, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire: the wheels come off Thomas’ top-five ambitions, as he drops from fourth place to 15th overall.

I always expected it to happen, but the closer I got to Paris, the more you hoped it somehow might not.

I was certainly struggling by then, and when I weighed myself on the morning of stage 19, I was 1.5kg lighter than I was the week before. So I knew I was depleted, but you try to talk yourself out of it.

Thomas’ exertions riding for yellow jersey-wearer Froome saw him ‘depleted’ in the Tour’s final days

You try to fight it. But once we started the Col du Glandon I just knew. My legs weren’t there. Then Astana lit it up at the front of the race, and that was it – I just couldn’t respond at all.

It’s like being in a banged-up old Citroen when you’re trying to race a Ferrari. It’s just not going to happen.

It’s not really pain, because you can’t push yourself to that limit. You’re so tired you can’t hurt yourself. There’s nothing in there to hurt. When you’re feeling good you can go to the very maximum. You can hurt yourself more.

As I fell away, one of the riders at the back looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Yeah, I don’t want to be here mate, it’s just happened…’

It was the first time I’d seen certain riders. You can race for 21 days and not see or speak to half your competitors.

It was hard to take, because at that stage we’ve got two proper days left until Paris. The podium, or top 10 at least, was still achievable.

Emotional pain like that can be worse than the physical one. A crash is like a big wallop, a shock but over quickly. Training pain is where you have to just do it – forget the numbers on your power meter, push yourself through it.

When you’re racing really well, it hurts, but it’s a nice hurt because you know you’re going well. Whereas if you’re at the back, getting a kicking, it can feel 10 times worse. Hurting in 100th place is much worse than hurting at the front.

‘There’ll always be haters when you ride for Sky’

26 July, Champs-Elysees, Paris: Thomas crosses the finish line of the Tour de France shoulder to shoulder with overall winner Chris Froome.

It was an amazing three weeks. The core of us in that Sky unit grew up racing together. I’ve raced with Froomey since 2008, when we were at the Barloworld team together. Then Ian Stannard, Ben Swift, Pete Kennaugh – we’ve all grown up together. We do it for each other.

It helps if you like your team leader. You’ll do more to help them. We’re all professional, and we should all do it anyway, but if you’re riding for someone who you don’t care about whether he wins or loses, you’re not going to get as much out of yourself.

Thomas (left) helped chaperone Froome over the cobbles and up many of the Tour’s mountain climbs

I know it’s a strange one if you’re not into cycling, but I don’t resent sacrificing myself for another rider.

Sa’s nan used to watch my races on TV and say, “Why did you sit up then? You were in front of [Mark] Cavendish until 200m to go. You were winning – why did you stop?”

A lot of people struggle to get their heads around it: a team of nine men, and only one gets to stand on the podium. But that’s why this day in Paris was so good, because Froomey had enough of a gap that we could all celebrate together.

Chris has been really generous. He’ll give you a gift, as tradition dictates; this year, he asked us whether we wanted a watch or money. We all got a yellow jersey signed, and that was enough for me.

There will always be haters when you ride for Sky. In 2014 everyone loved us, because Froomey crashed out and Richie Porte fell away. We weren’t winning but we were trying. But when we’re trying and we’re winning, everybody hates us.

I’d rather people hate us and we win than the other way round. And it’s only a minority anyway, a few people on Twitter who probably hate everyone anyway.

‘Harry from McFly showed me some moves’

3 October, South Wales: Thomas marries his partner Sara Elen Thomas.

My single proudest moment of the year? My wife will read this, so I should say getting married.

“The best part for sure was SaraEls90 rapping a whole Eminem song #proud, #Why I married her,” Thomas tweeted about his wedding day

And it was a great day. The organisers of E3 agreed to deliver my beer prize to the venue. Harry from McFly showed me some moves for the first dance the previous Saturday at half-time in the England v Wales Rugby World Cup match. Sara rapped a whole Eminem song.

Call it payback. Cycling has the first claim on every one of my days in the season. It’s certainly hard on the other halves.

You’re away a lot. When you’re home you’re out on your bike a lot, and when you get in you’re tired and you’re not eating much, so you’re grumpy and you don’t have the energy for shopping or a social life.

And you can’t go out for food much because you’re on a strict diet. You have to be selfish.

When we do go out for a meal, Sara will order something normal like lamb or beef. I’ll order a salad and a piece of steamed fish. And every time the waiter will bring over the food and give me the lamb and her the salad, before we have to swap it over. That’s not a great feeling for a girl.

But I’m going to be at the top of my sport for maybe five more years. After that you can still be a pro but you won’t be winning much, you’ll be helping other riders win things.

So it’s five more years where cycling is the priority. Then you’ve got the rest of your life to do the washing-up.

Listen to a Bespoke BBC 5 Live Special with Geraint Thomas on Thursday, 10 December from 2100 to 2200 GMT.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cycling/35051577

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