Geraint Thomas: 'I had the best run into the Tour I've had, it's not like I've suddenly become a crap rider'

After a run of bad luck, the Welshman wants to shake up his regular race programme and enjoy his last few years in the peloton, as well as remaining in the hunt for victories

Geraint Thomas
(Image credit: Getty)

Even if you hadn't seen Geraint Thomas posting pictures of himself on Instagram back on his bike after the longest off-season of his career - three and a half week's holiday before his shoulder operation demanded a further three weeks off - the fact he's on this Zoom call lying horizontally (as all good cyclists should do when they're not on the bike) is proof that he's back training. Still in the game and not done just yet.

Those Instagram photos are the tip of the iceberg for the 2018 Tour de France winner's off-the-bike duties. Thomas is the 10th most-followed pro on social media, a total of 1.2 million followers across all platforms, the equivalent of nearly half the population of his native Wales. On top of that he has not one but two podcasts on the go, the fabulously-named Watts Occurring with team-mate Luke Rowe and his newer, eponymous Geraint Thomas Cycling Club

Is he cycling's Joe Rogan? He's certainly spent his time 'building out his brand' as awful marketing people would describe the process of making the most of the afterglow of his Tour win. And while Thomas admits the off-the-cuff chats he has with Rowe in front of a microphone often descend into "laddy chat", Ineos' long-suffering press officer George Solomon is on hand to ask: 'Is that really what you want to say?'

"Sometimes we rip into people and we're only taking the piss but then forget it's just going out to the whole world. People might not take it in the same way," Thomas tells Cycling Weekly. "That's why George is sometimes like 'are you sure you want to say it like this?' Maybe not...but it's the best way of just getting your yourselves across."

Thomas and Rowe started their podcast during the Tour de France a few of years ago, having discussed the idea for a while before finally saying enough to dithering and beginning the venture during the world's toughest bike race.

"It's just a good way of giving your opinion on a race, in your own words," he adds. "Obviously, you do some interviews and they can kind of...not take it out of context...but you can paint a picture of a tree and the tree can look very different in different paintings." 

Let's hope this particular tree has been painted in a manner he agrees with. Thomas recounts one regretful encounter with the media when a national newspaper interviewed him for an hour, and at one point asked whether he thought wearing a helmet should be compulsory. Without thinking Thomas just said yes, the headline was written and furore followed. He then vowed to take more care in future interviews.

The Welshman describes the podcast as "saying it how we see it", an opportunity to "take the piss a bit" and is just like two mates having a chat in a pub. And so, of course, that inadvertently fuels the cycling media machine.

"It's mad because you find whenever we do the podcast now, little stories can come out of that, people use the quotes and then make the story around it. That's obviously fine and I think it makes our lives a little easier as well. Rather than doing 10 interviews, you do a podcast. And that's the general gist of what people want to know most of the time."

Surely, though, the podcasting is simply an extension to how sportspeople have utilised social media to take more control over 'the narrative' rather than leaving it up to press publications that probably don't have the athlete's interests as the number one priority?

"If I wasn't an athlete, I don't think I'd be [on social media]...I might be on there following people, but I wouldn't be tweeting and stuff, it's one of those things you've got to do," Thomas admits. 

"And obviously you have some sponsor commitments and stuff and so you don't want it to just be purely all about your sponsors [so you do have to use it and post pictures from everyday life]. But then at the same time, we went on holiday to Dubai for a week and we're doing something or you might see something cool and the first thing I think of isn't to get my phone out and take a picture of it and put it on Instagram, it's just to be with my son and be like, 'oh, look at that' or whatever.

"20 or 30 minutes of us guys chatting, you can get your opinion and your character across a lot better than in a few tweets of 140 characters and a couple of pictures."

Thomas' 2018 Tour victory obviously cemented his place within the sport and he also seems to have found a comfortable space for himself off the bike too. But still, his 2021 Tour de Romandie overall victory and soon after taking stage five of the Dauphiné were his first wins since standing on the podium in Paris three years ago.

After a 2019 where Thomas' assault on the yellow jersey was halted by the shortened stage to Tignes, falls at the 2020 Giro d'Italia, the 2021 Tour de France and the Tokyo Olympics road race have prevented the Ineos rider improving on an already impressive palmarès.

"I think it's just like you say," Thomas answers as to whether he thinks he's finally due some good fortune next year. "2019 was still good but obviously the race wasn't, we just didn't finish that race as we should have. And then the silly little crashes and things...

"But then this year I definitely felt like I had the best run into the Tour I've [ever] had really and so that was good for the confidence. And then obviously the crash was really bad for the head and the morale. But I just need to remember that I had one of my strongest seasons up to the start of the Tour this year. So it's not like I've suddenly become a crap rider.

"It's just about staying positive and keep working hard to keep doing what I'm doing. At the end of the day I've probably got two to three years left and so just want to enjoy them. The best way I'm going to enjoy it is by racing in the front and being in the mix for wins. That's the idea."

As for what the idea is for 2022, a new contract with Ineos isn't official just yet but is expected to be announced soon. Therefore, Thomas' exact schedule for the next year isn't decided, he needs to look at the routes for the Grand Tours, but would also potentially fancy a crack at the Ardennes and cobbled Classics, just to keep things fresh.

"I don't really know what I'm going to target at the moment. Just get this contract sorted first and then I can actually sit down and plan what I'm going to do," explains Thomas. "But at the moment in the back of my head I just want to win a few races, doesn't really matter what it is at the minute, and then still be competitive in the biggest ones.

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"But once I've seen everything, the three Grand Tour routes, the Ardennes could be something or the cobbled Classics...a few different things that I could potentially go for, I wouldn't mind doing something slightly different. Even if I did do the Tour again I think the run into it could be different, do a few different races. Just mix it up a bit because I've done the same sort of programme, year in, year out now for the majority of my career, so it'd be nice to just change it up a bit."

Change is the only constant in cycling, and whether it's on the bike or off the bike, Geraint Thomas is at the stage of his career where a tranquility exudes, he has earned the right to have nothing left to prove. Now, it just seems to be a case of enjoying it all,  whether that's on the bike or in front of a microphone.

The Geraint Thomas Cycling Club sees Geraint and Tom Fordyce take listeners on a ride around the stories and secrets of pro racing. With its second series in full swing, you can catch new episodes every Tuesday across all podcast platforms, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.