Maybe an Olympic medal will wash away the disappointment.
Thomas, Yates, and Geoghegan Hart were all victims of a crash-riddled Tour that dashed hopes of yellow jerseys and stage wins. However, when joined by Adam Yates, Team GB has an awesome foursome that performance director Stephen Park believes is well within the grasp of a medal at Saturday’s Tokyo Olympic road race.
“I think that we’ve got a very good chance of medaling,” Park told VeloNews this week. “All four riders have shown that on their day, they can race and win against the best in the world.
“If on the day they’re feeling good and it runs well for us, I think there’s no reason why we won’t be challenging for the podium.”
With three grand tour winners in Thomas, Geoghegan Hart, and Simon Yates, and stage race star Adam Yates, it’s a quartet bristling with options for the arduous Tokyo road race route.
Unless three weeks on Tour has thrown a wrench into the heart of Team GB, that is.
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Thomas crashed hard on stage 3 of the grand tour and dislocated his shoulder, while Simon Yates abandoned after a gravel-strewn crash on stage 13 suffering from trauma to his abdominal wall. Geoghegan Hart stayed upright but lost time early and was a shadow of his Giro d’Italia-conquering best.
Ironically, Park sees the trio’s traumatic Tour as a boon for Great Britain’s hopes in Tokyo.
Yates was able to fly out to Tokyo earlier than expected to kick-start his preparations with brother Adam. Geoghegan Hart and Thomas were free of leadership duties, and the latter had room to recover and rebuild through the back half of the race.
“The Tour didn’t go great for them, but the mood is better, more optimistic, than you would think,” Park said on a call shortly before he flew to Tokyo.
“With Geraint and Tao going down early in that first week, they were quickly out of the running and were able to ride themselves back into shape towards the end of the race. Arguably they’ve actually conducted some pretty great training over those last couple of weeks.”
“Simon had a heavier fall, but he’s been in Tokyo [for] some time now and is being well cared for by the medical team out there. It sounds like things are looking good and he’s going to be recovered by the time we get to the road race.”
Park indicated an on-form Simon Yates could be the team’s best option in the elevation-packed road race.
However, Geoghegan Hart, Thomas, and Adam Yates will be hearing echoes of their Ineos Grenadiers “all-for-one” team playbook in the GB Olympic strategy.
“It’s going to be a case of just seeing how it’s all working out on the day and how their legs are feeling to ensure we get the best support for our strongest rider,” Park said. “I think the end of the race will be a bit of a war of attrition so we need to keep flexible and save whoever is looking best.”
Deceuninck-Quick-Step climbing ace James Knox is in Japan as a reserve should the Tour contingent struggle this week. Park will be hoping the young Cumbrian doesn’t need to be used – particularly with the Geoghegan Hart and Thomas racing the time trial just four days later.
Tour de France turnaround makes tough road race even tougher
Thomas and Geoghegan Hart are among many of the top contenders for Tokyo that have had to navigate a tight post-Tour turnaround.
Champs-Élysées star Wout van Aert flew with swathes more Tour racers just hours after the Paris podium ceremonies. Geoghegan Hart and Thomas jetted to Japan the next morning to land Tuesday local time.
The 11-hour flight, a battery of COVID protocols, and the ability to acclimatize to the searing temperatures and dense humidity of the Japanese summer could be pivotal in how the race plays out Saturday.
“How riders come down after the end of the Tour will be key for all the riders that are flying into Tokyo,” Park said. “Some of those riders will be flying, and they’ll be going really well. Others will get to the end of the Tour and another long bike race will be the last thing on their mind.”
Teams such as Slovenia, Belgium, and Italy stand toward the top of the Tokyo pecking order for a medal this weekend – unless the unprecedented six-day turnaround flattens the field. There are so many unknowns that Team GB is only looking inward.
“It’s going to be one of the toughest Olympic races ever and this approach makes it harder – there’s no point spending too long worrying about the opposition right now,” Park said.
“We really don’t know how riders will be this week. We’re just trying to do everything we can to get our riders into the best possible shape we can to give them the best chance of doing what they can do. And that’ll either be good enough on the day or not.”