Monday 27 January 2020

Good friend benefited from not having to do the donkey work for Froome this year

Geraint Thomas (R) rides past the Arc de Triomphe monument as the peloton reaches Paris after 3,351km of racing. Photo: Stephane Mahe
Geraint Thomas (R) rides past the Arc de Triomphe monument as the peloton reaches Paris after 3,351km of racing. Photo: Stephane Mahe

Nicolas Roche

After a poor Giro d'Italia, it was tough to accept that I wasn't going to be riding the Tour de France this year.

Focused on getting back into the shape for the second half of the season rather than wallowing in self-pity though, I hadn't planned on watching much of this year's Tour until my BMC team-mates won the team time trial and put Greg Van Avermaet into yellow on day three.

Ireland’s Daniel Martin, who finished eighth overall, was on the podium in Paris yesterday to receive his prize for being the Tour de France’s most aggressive rider. Photo: Getty Images
Ireland’s Daniel Martin, who finished eighth overall, was on the podium in Paris yesterday to receive his prize for being the Tour de France’s most aggressive rider. Photo: Getty Images

Seeing my team-mates win the stage from my couch was a bittersweet experience for me.

Three years ago when I signed for BMC, they were world team time trial champions and I knew my best chance of winning a Tour de France stage would come with them in the discipline. Honestly, while I was very happy for the guys on the day, I admit to having a little knot in my stomach at the same time, knowing that I could have been there and that I could have a Tour de France stage win on my palmares now.

It was an incredible first week for Greg and the team. The guys rode brilliantly to keep the yellow jersey for 11 days and Greg himself had a great Tour; almost pulling off a stage victory while in the yellow jersey on the cobbled stage nine to Roubaix.

News of Richie Porte crashing out of the Tour with a broken collarbone on the same day came via a text from a friend and not only was it a big blow for Richie and all of us at BMC, I think his departure was a big loss for the Tour.

Thomas crosses the line alongside his Sky team-mate Chris Froome. Photo: Getty Images
Thomas crosses the line alongside his Sky team-mate Chris Froome. Photo: Getty Images

Richie was well ready for the overall battle this year and I think he would have been one of the main contenders last week.

If I didn't want to watch the race at the start, then I hadn't much choice in the latter stages as I was asked to do commentary for Eurosport for the final week of racing.

TV is something I've always enjoyed and thought I'd like to do when my career ended so I jumped at the chance - on the condition that it didn't interfere with my training for the second part of the season. I didn't want to jeopardise all the hard work I've put in to get back into shape.

Although I've been on Eurosport many times as a rider, I'll admit I was nervous in front of the camera the first day. I was also surprised that it was actually quite emotional to be in the commentary box when my cousin Dan was attacking in the mountains and when Geraint Thomas, a good friend of mine, was defending his yellow jersey the last few days.

Dan did a very ballsy ride on the shortest stage, just missing out on a second stage win and I found myself getting caught up in the emotion of it all, willing him on as he climbed.

I'm so proud of Dan. He's the type of rider who never gives up.

Puncture

He's been unlucky again this year with a crash and badly timed puncture but he's fought for every chance he got and apart from his stage win and eighth place overall, I think he really deserved to be on the podium in Paris yesterday as the most aggressive rider of this year's Tour.

I've known Geraint Thomas since we battled it out as schoolboys at the 1999 Manchester Youth Tour and we've always been good friends.

We've been on the same team for a couple of years and 'G' is a very relaxed type of guy, with a dry Welsh sense of humour. He loves to give a slagging but his tone of voice is nearly always the same so when I met him first I never quite knew if he was serious or not.

Some people have remarked on a 'track rider' winning the Tour de France this year but 'G' hasn't been a track rider in a long time.

Even when he went back to the track for the Olympics, he was racing on the road all the time and he certainly hasn't just come out of the blue. For years he was going to be the 'next big thing' but it took him a lot of practice before he matured into the rider that a lot of people hoped he was going to be.

Along the way he's won Bayern Rundfahrt in Germany and the Tour of the Algarve in Portugal twice each, as well as big races like Paris-Nice and the Dauphine.

He's won stages of most big races and even the E3 Harelbeke classic, not to mention winning the junior edition of Paris-Roubaix back in 2004.

This year wasn't even his first stint in yellow at the Tour, as he held it for four days last year after taking victory on the opening stage, only to crash out eight days later with a broken collarbone while lying in second place overall.

On previous Tours, 'G' was riding for Chris Froome and had to do a lot of work for the team.

Even after doing all that he managed to be up there on GC and only cracked in the last week because of all the work he had done. You just can't do both.

Along with Movistar, Sky had one of the strongest teams in the race but the difference was that they also had the strongest rider in the race in Geraint.

This year he didn't have to do any riding in the wind. Once he got into yellow he just had to follow wheels for the most part.

Still, right up until the end, I thought there was always the question whether 'G' would be allowed his head or if he would still have to work for erstwhile leader and four-time Tour winner Froome.

I think that's what made the final week of this year's Tour so exciting.

I think if Froome had been in yellow after eight days a lot of people would have said, 'Ah, he's going to win again' and switched their telly off.

But with 'G', there was that air of uncertainty as he hadn't done if before.

He had Tom Dumoulin and Primoz Roglic breathing down his neck and nobody knew how good or bad Froome really was.

Having had his share of bad luck in Grand Tours, this time around 'G' got through the three weeks without any mishaps. He stayed out of trouble in the first week, was good on the cobbles, was good on the climbs, was good in the time trial, had no bad luck and had a great team around him.

The other day, 'L'Equipe' led with the headline 'The New Wave' over a photo of Thomas, Dumoulin and Roglic. I agree there is a new wave of riders coming to the top but there's always a transition period and I think Froome can't be ruled out for future Grand Tour victories just yet.

This year, he was third overall in the Tour de France.

He wasn't bad, he just wasn't as good as other years.

Obviously it's going to be difficult for Geraint to repeat this Tour win.

When you have a prolific winner like Chris Froome as team leader, you don't get many chances on Team Sky but this year he got his biggest ever chance and he took it.

But after winning the biggest race of all, I'm not sure 'G' will mind if he never wins another one.

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