Geraint Thomas will spend a maximum of 10 days at home from now until Paris-Roubaix having bought into an untested plan his Sky team has devised to be more competitive in the Spring Classics this season.
Thomas began his season at the Tour Down Under yesterday and is 10 seconds adrift of race leader and stage one winner Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol).
The dual Olympic gold medalist has been in Australia since late December training and ahead of what stands to be a huge season including possible team leadership at the Tour of Flanders as well as a return to the Tour de France where he wore the white jersey for a stint in 2011.
Sky's Classics squad is competing in Australia this week in what is one of only two stage races it will contest before its spring campaign gets underway. Races after the February Tour of Qatar, which Sky will depart for after Down Under, have been substituted for training camps in Majorca and Tenerife. It follows very structured pre-season camps under the tutelage of sport scientist Tim Kerrison.
Thomas says the untested race programme is a bit of a gamble but has embraced the concept nonetheless.
"We pretty much don't train at home anymore," Thomas told Cycling Weekly on the eve of the first WorldTour race of 2013.
"We've got this, then Qatar. We go home for about four days then we go to Majorca again, straight to Belgium and then we've got maybe a week at home tops and then Tenerife training. From there it's straight to the Classics, so maybe 10 nights at home between when I left to come here until the 7th of April."
The Classics group will stay and train and race together right up until Paris-Roubaix. It's a similar practice to that which saw Bradley Wiggins claim the yellow jersey, and Chris Froome runner-up, last July.
"It's not been done before but it worked for the other boys - that specific training - and we just hope we're training in the right areas," he said.
"It's not really threshold, I haven't done too much threshold yet, but the zones below it we've worked quite a bit there.
"I think it's worth committing to. Everyone was a bit, ‘Is it the right thing to do?' but we've all bought into it now, so give it a good bash this year and see what happens. At the end of the day if we do flop then it's not our fault - the team told us to do it!
"The time away was a bit of a surprise - the amount of training camps - but I'm definitely happy with it."
On the road again
Thomas returned to road racing after the Olympics, in which his Great Britain quartet broke its own world record to win team pursuit gold, and, whilst he struggled with the transition, maintains it was beneficial. The Welshman joined teammates at a December training camp in Majorca, which preceded an early course reconnaissance in Belgium with sports director and 2001 Paris-Roubaix champion, Servais Knaven.
"To be honest I don't really know where I'm supposed to be because I've never gone to try and ride well on the road in April," said Thomas, which is surprising given his 10th place at the 2011 Tour of Flanders.
"I've never really thought about it before though," he clarified.
"I've obviously known I'm going to do them but it was more just getting stuck into every race. There was never any really thought behind the training I was doing - not as much as there is now anyway. Back then I was still riding the track and I had Manchester World Cup February time that year," he continued.
"I feel the best I've felt this time of year for the road and I was just really keen after the Games; all I was thinking about was this year and got back in to some racing because I wanted to set myself up for the winter, really knuckle down and just get the hours in. I started towards the end of October and I've been chasing the sun for the winter."
Return to the Tour de France
Thomas's dedication to the boards saw him miss the Tour de France last year and it's a race he is keen to return to in the 100th edition having shown so much promise in 2011, and with his track career now all but over.
"As soon as the Classics are done I'll have a little break and then I'm into that (Tour) programme with them (general classification rider contingent), back over to Tenerife in May, Bayern, Dauphine and hopefully the Tour," he said. "It's busy for sure.
"After the Tour I think that is it then, shutdown, because we've been on it since November pretty much and it is a lot of time away - a big commitment."
Sky is without Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) this season and Thomas could possibly fill the vital role the Australian played as road captain in mountain stages of the Tour.
"I definitely want to be there in front for a long time climbing with them," Thomas said.
"I'd love to be there going into the last climb of the day and maybe be the first guy going up that climb with them - kind of like what Mick was doing last year.
"I just want to keep improving and hopefully move forward from where I was in 2011. It would be purely riding for the team again but in the lead-up to it I definitely want to be working in the hills and working on my threshold and just try and climb better and keep moving forward there and see where that takes me."
Thomas has been touted as a future Tour winner in media circles but he won't yet describe himself as one.
"I wouldn't feel comfortable saying that but I'd love to give it a good go," he said.
Team Sky, conditioning wise, is the best home Thomas says for him but with Wiggins and Froome currently on its books race leadership may be a few years away for the team player.
"I was 31st last time. I could have rode top 20 if I'd just ridden for myself and not done all the sprints for Edvald but there's quite a big difference going from top 20 to winning," he said.
"(Sky's) obviously got two real strong GC guys in there at the minute but that can change quickly as well. It'd definitely be the next Games sort of year - I reckon that would be the earliest it would happen, if it was going to happen."
The Tour Down Under continues tomorrow with stage two to Rostrevor that features a category one climb, with a narrow, technical descent, less than 10km from the finish, which is set to shake-up the GC.
Tour Down Under 2013: Coverage index
Geraint Thomas: Rider Profile
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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, television reporter and presenter, who has provided coverage for Cycling Weekly from races across the world. She has covered eight Tours de France, as well as reporting for national and international newspapers as well as other magazines.
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