KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — Welshman Geraint Thomas (Sky) has made the step from “G” to “Super G” this season. With his results has come a new confidence, one that enables him to believe he can win Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) in Belgium.
“When did I start to believe I could win? Maybe after last weekend when I won E3 Harelbeke,” Thomas said.
“E3 was definitely good for my confidence, looking at the list of winners there, and they are those who went on to win in Flanders.”
Sky gave him the team’s reins for the Belgian monument after a spring classics campaign that already includes an E3 Harelbeke win and a third-place result in Gent-Wevelgem.
Thomas will have the support of teammate Bradley Wiggins, in his last races with Sky, and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Ian Stannard.
The leadership role comes after years of racing on the track, helping in the Tour de France, and developing in the cobbled classics.
“I have experience,” Thomas said. “I’m really taking it serious now like I did when I was on the track.”
Thomas rode in the four-man pursuit team with Wiggins to win the Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Afterwards he raced on the road with Barloworld and jumped over to Sky when it debuted in 2010. He has helped Sky’s classic riders like Juan Antonio Flecha and grand tour stars like Wiggins and Chris Froome, but he always kept one foot in the velodrome. That changed after the 2012 London Olympics, when Thomas began dedicating 100 percent of his time to the road.
“I said to him in Paris-Nice, I’ve never seen him like that before. He’s normally a bit away with the fairies, but he was paying attention to his food and his mindset,” Wiggins said.
“He’s spent quite a few years racing for other people, being the strongman and being praised as the super domestique, but now he’s getting the opportunity and position where he has the confidence to ride at the front.
“He’s up there with guys like [Fabian] Cancellara now. He’s nearly 30 and he’s realized that these are the years to win one of these things.”
“The main thing was focusing on the road solely, not the track,” Thomas added.
“I worked on my weight and knuckled down. In the past, I didn’t care. The weight didn’t matter on the track.
“I was always focused, but I guess I wasn’t the leader and the road was more a tool for the track. I still loved racing my bike on the road, I dreamed of that, but the track was always in the background. That changed starting with 2013.”
Thomas began winning more on the road, but suffered from crashes in the last two editions of Flanders. In 2015, though, it is coming together perfectly.
He won E3 Harelbeke and he impressed enough in Milano-Sanremo and Gent-Wevelgem to convince many that he could have won those races as well if he would have had more luck.
After a wind gust blew him off the road during Gent-Wevelgem and caused a crash, he managed to return to the lead group. Only Italian Luca Paolini (Katusha) slipped clear. Thomas chased with Dutchman Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick-Step) in Gent-Wevelgem and placed third.
The results last week made him one of the favorites for the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the second monument of the season after Milano-Sanremo. Only Belgian Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) has equal odds of winning heading into the race.
The race ends with two visits up the cobbled Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs. Wiggins said in an ideal world he would drive the pace up the Kwaremont climb, peel off, and leave “G” to ride solo over the Paterberg and onto the finish in Oudenaarde.
A Thomas win Sunday would be historic for British cycling, as the last Brit to do so was Tom Simpson in 1961.
Wiggins joked that if Thomas wins, the pair would skip Paris-Roubaix and drink the magnum-sized bottles of Kwaremont beers they already received as race winnings.
“I don’t know if we’d be at Roubaix!” Wiggins said.
“We have those bottles over there and we’d send the B team to Roubaix.”