According to MTN-Qhubeka's Brian Smith, the African team attempted to negotiate a 'loan' of Geraint Thomas from Sky for 2015

Geraint Thomas is proving invaluable for Team Sky’s Chris Froome in the Tour de France and riding his way to a potential podium spot, but he could have been doing so for South African team MTN-Qhubeka had a winter deal gone through.

MTN’s team manager, Brian Smith contacted Sky Principal David Brailsford while he was building his team during the off-season to see if Thomas was on loan for 2015. Brailsford said would not consider such a move, however.

Brailsford told Cycling Weekly: “We wouldn’t lend him to the Queen!”

At the hot and sticky stage finish in Rodez on Friday, where Belgian Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) won and Thomas helped Froome keep his yellow jersey, Brailsford was busy and could not add more.

Smith, who stood by MTN’s white and black bus five metres away, explained that they needed talent and a ticket to ride the 2015 Tour on a wildcard invitation.

“I am a fan of Geraint Thomas,” Smith said. “I thought, ‘If they are going in for Froome, why don’t you give Geraint an opportunity?’

“I just got in touch with Dave as a friend, and said, ‘What’s the opportunities?’ Just a loan for one year, predominately so that we could get in the Tour, because if you sign him, you are in the Tour, and get into the top 10.

“I knew he could do this [type of ride] already, that’s while I was trying to do something with Sky and Dave Brailsford. I just think of what he could have done if he wasn’t doing all that hard work for Froome. He’s a talent.”

Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome on stage four of the 2015 Tour de France (Watson)

Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome on stage four of the 2015 Tour de France (Watson)

It is unclear how far talks went between the two over the 29-year-old Welshman.

“I thought, ‘Why not just ask?'” Smith added. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Smith signed several riders over the off-season from WorldTour teams with his Professional Continental-level team looking to earn an invitation to the Tour and support its Africans. The team, among others, signed Steve Cummings, Edvald Boasson Hagen from Sky, and Serge Pauwels.

“I need someone else to support these guys [Louis Meintjes and Merhawi Kudus] in the mountains and help them because we can’t see everything in the team car. Serge has been great, but looking forward, we have to have strength in that area to help these kids.”

He admitted that Thomas would not have had the same level of team support in the classics and Tour as he has with Sky. This year, Thomas won the Volta ao Algarve stage race, rode solo to E3 Harelbeke victory and finished second overall in the Tour de Suisse. He now sits fifth overall at 4-03 minutes behind Froome in the Tour, with Sky eyeing a podium finish for him in Paris.

Thomas’s current contract with Sky runs through to the end of 2016.

Video: Geraint Thomas – where it all began