Look no further than the COVID-19 shutdown.
Thomas, the 2018 Tour champion, admitted that he struggled to prepare for the 2020 Tour de France during the five-month break from racing amid the global pandemic. In an interview with Jeremy Whittle for British newspaper The Guardian, Thomas said he simply was not at race fitness after the time at home.
“I’d won the biggest bike race you can win and it felt almost like I was going through the motions a bit,” Thomas told The Guardian. “I need to be super ‘on’ it, to get to my grand tour competitive shape. That takes a lot of work. It doesn’t come naturally, especially the whole weight thing. So, I was just running a little heavy and it was more a case of getting on top of that. Six weeks of racing has really helped.”
Thomas was originally slated to ride as co-leader of Ineos Grenadiers alongside Egan Bernal and Chris Froome at the Tour. After Thomas’ mediocre showing at the Critérium du Dauphiné — he finished 57th overall, 53 minutes behind winner Daniel Martinez — team Principal Dave Brailsford decided to bench both Froome and Thomas for the Tour de France, instead placing both riders on a separate racing program. Thomas is slated to lead the squad at the Giro d’Italia, while Froome will race the Vuelta a España.
Thomas said Brailsford’s decision did not create tension between himself and his boss. The two have worked together with Team Sky and also Great Britain’s track program for more than a decade, and Thomas said his relationship with Brailsford allowed him a sense of comfort.
“The good thing is that I feel comfortable telling him exactly what I think and vice versa. That sounds obvious, but I can’t be as open with some people as I am with Dave,” Thomas said. “That takes time and trust. He’s backing me for the Giro and we’re getting everything in place to get in as good a shape as possible.”
Thomas admitted he was initially disappointed by the decision as the 2020 Tour had been his primary focus for the season. He returned from his training home in Monaco to his hometown of Cardiff, Wales, spent time with his family, and refocused on the remainder of the season.
“I went back to Cardiff, saw my son and it was, ‘right, reset now – all guns blazing for the Giro and give it everything,'” Thomas said.
Thomas won the 2018 Tour de France after proving himself to be stronger than Froome, the four-time Tour winner who was originally slated to lead the team that year. Thomas won two stages and rode a smart race to win his first grand tour.
On paper, Thomas seems a perfect fit for this year’s Giro d’Italia, which caters to strong individual time trialists who can also survive high mountains. Thomas is among the best time-trial riders in the peloton.
At the moment Thomas is racing Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy as part of his preparation for the Giro. He currently sits in 6th place overall, just 34 seconds out of the lead.
Thomas said his form is steadily returning at the Italian race.
“I’m feeling better than three weeks ago for sure,” Thomas said. “It’s the first time I’ve been at the pointy end this year. This race will do me the world of good for the Giro. I’ve got some confidence again.”
Thomas said the Tour omission allowed him to refocus on being the leader for the Giro d’Italia. He would rather focus on winning the Giro than pulling domestique duty at the Tour and not get an opportunity to win. Thomas shot down chatter that he balked at riding support for Bernal at the Tour, instead saying he simply wanted to “make the most” out of the opportunities available to him at this stage in his career.
“It’s nothing against Egan,” Thomas said in response to that suggestion. “It’s not like I’m throwing my toys out of the pram. But these last few years — I want to make the most of them.”
“I could have gone and done a job, but there’s also other guys in the team that can do that job,” he added. “I feel that I’m at the stage of my career now where I want to make the most of every year. I’ve done so much for other people throughout my career.