Geraint Thomas posted a photo on his Instagram last month that pretty much summed up his July. It was a picture of a big, fat juicy cheeseburger, fries, and an icy, cold beer. After months of sacrifice and a near-miss at the Tour de France, the Welshman deserved it.
There was one more photo of he and Egan Bernal celebrating on the Champs-Élysées. Since then, the 2018 Tour winner Thomas has largely gone quiet on social media. That’s in contrast to last year, when his Twitter feed documented his months-long binge of celebrating yellow. There were selfies with heroes such as Leo Messi and Gareth Bale. But last winter, Thomas shut it down after Christmas. From there, it was all-in for the yellow jersey defense.
If anyone wondered how serious Thomas was taking his 2019 season, following what many believed was a one-off Tour victory, were in for a surprise in July. Thomas was right in the mix, dodging off a string of potentially disastrous crashes, and riding into the final weekend with the repeat looking very likely.
Mother Nature changed the script, and snuffed out what was supposed to be the wildly contested finale. When Tour director Christian Prudhomme dropped the red flag and neutralized the stage over the Col de l’Iseran, Bernal was already on the march, but Thomas had a free ride that day on the road to Tignes. With a string of climbs that were eventually cancelled in the closing two mountain stages, Thomas’s dreams of becoming the first rider since Miguel Indurain to defend a career-first Tour win — not counting the DQ’d Lance Armstrong wins — were swept away in a wave of hail and mud.
In the end, he played the loyal teammate, and dutifully celebrated Bernal’s historical win in Paris with a few well-deserved pints.
People are already starting to speculate about the 2020 Tour. With the injured Froome expected to be back, Team Ineos is going to have a delicate balancing act on its collective hands next July. With three Tour winners all vying for supremacy, the bus is going to seem very crowded indeed.
Rather than look ahead to 2020, however, Thomas should jump straight back into the fray. Instead of settling on second-place and waiting for next year’s Tour, Thomas should take his fitness and frustration, and head south.
The Vuelta a España is right there prime for the taking.
There are already a few rumors that Thomas might indeed race the Vuelta. If he does, he would have a very good chance of victory.
So far, there’s been no official confirmation of what Thomas’s plans are. In a recent podcast with Ineos teammate Luke Rowe, Thomas hinted that he will race the second edition of the revived Deutschland Tour (August 29 to September 1) and target the time trial at the Yorkshire world championships in September. It’s also likely there would be an appearance at the Tour of Britain (September 7-14), where he and Froome raced triumphantly together last year.
There would certainly be space on the Ineos roster for the Vuelta, starting August 24 in Torrevieja along Spain’s Mediterranean Coast. Bernal, who received a hero’s welcome home last week as Latin America’s first Tour winner, certainly won’t race the Vuelta. Ineos might bring Pavel Sivakov, who won the Tour of Poland over the weekend, as well as the likes of Kenny Elissonde and David de la Cruz. Thomas would have full captaincy at the Vuelta, without having to look over his shoulder.
In fact, Thomas should follow Froome’s example and put the Vuelta at the center of his autumn plans. Froome doggedly came back to the Vuelta year after year until he finally won it in 2017. The disqualification of Juan José Cobo in 2011 gave Froome another Vuelta title, but Froome wanted that win on the road, and he chased it for more than a half decade.
This year’s Vuelta presents Thomas with a unique opportunity and he shouldn’t pass it up.
First off, this year’s Vuelta route is pretty good for Thomas. An opening team time trial and a 36.1-kilometer individual time trial in stage 10 would tilt the race in his favor in the first half of the race. Though the Vuelta is, as always, climb heavy, there is nothing that Thomas couldn’t handle.
Team Ineos would pack the necessary firepower to protect his flanks from the inevitable attacks. Even the explosive, beyond-steep finales at Los Machucos and La Cubilla in the second half of the course are so steep that he could limit his losses to any stealthy attacks. Thomas has only raced the Vuelta once, in 2015 when he was 69th in an edition when Froome crashed out with a broken bone in his foot, but the team has the experience to guide him over unfamiliar roads.
Also, there’s no one in this year’s Vuelta start-list that should give Thomas pause. A few names, like defending champ Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Lotto), have yet to confirm. Of the others, Thomas has already proven he can fend off the likes of Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), Rafa Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Lotto). The big question mark for this Vuelta is what kind of condition Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz (Movistar) brings to the race. If Carapaz is flying like he was in May, perhaps no one can beat him.
It’s almost certain Thomas has more in his tank that what he used during this year’s Tour.
Despite his uneven spring, coupled with his crash at the Tour de Suisse, Thomas came into the Tour looking very strong. Though he was a touch off his top form in the first half of the race, he was clearly in the running for another yellow.
Thomas will probably be having a rough few weeks wondering what might have happened in the final two stages of the Tour. He should carry that pent up frustration and un-spent cartridges straight into the Vuelta. No season is ever the same and this could be his best chance to make a run at the Vuelta title. The Spanish grand tour is there for the taking.