In this extract from his new book, 'The Tour according to G', Geraint Thomas reveals all about the crashes and setbacks which hampered his efforts in the 2017 Giro d'Italia and Tour de France and how he bounced back with the help and support of his friends, family and team.
The 2017 Tour de France. I am in second place in the general classification, only my Sky teammate Chris Froome ahead of me. I have been in the yellow jersey, winning the prologue in the rain of Düsseldorf and holding on to it for four more days, and I am within touching distance of it still.
Already there have been crashes. Alejandro Valverde, the consistently competitive Spaniard, broke his kneecap after going down on a slippery corner on that Saturday afternoon prologue. I have hit the deck three times in the first eight stages, but all of the crashes were minor ones, all of them ones I could stand back up from and remount my bike.
It starts to rain. A road already lumpy in places and slippery slick in others becomes more treacherous with every cold, wet minute. We are riding at the front of the peloton, a thin white line of Sky jerseys, trying to control the pace, trying to keep attacks at bay and keep tight our hold on the race. Luke Rowe, my old friend and fellow graduate of the Maindy Flyers cycling club in Cardiff, is pacing us at the front. Towards the summit, I’m in fifth or sixth place, uncomfortable but in control, wanting the climb to end but relishing its tests too.
An acceleration coming round outside us. The brown, white and pale blue jerseys of the French team AG2R, working for their team leader Romain Bardet, boyish face but a constant danger in these high mountains. A sprint for the top, for the points the summit brings for those chasing the King of the Mountains classification, but there are no points left, the breakaway has mopped all those up. I stand on the pedals and get out of the saddle, but by the time we crest the top and see the road dropping away in front of us I am back in ninth. Everyone wants to be as far forward as possible to limit the chance of crashing, but there is no real need for this stress. We create it ourselves.
If a team attacks down this descent, with so far still to race, are they going to keep going all day and hold that advantage? Not a chance. You’d give them 200/1 odds. So why don’t we all just stay where we are and ride down the descent like we would in training? Oh, it’s the Tour, you have to stress, right?
The further back you are, the more you are forced to react to the desires and flaws of others rather than cutting your own lines. The rider in front of you brakes, you have to brake. The guy three riders up goes wide on one corner and then cuts across the next one, you have to scrub off speed to keep from touching wheels, and when you scrub off speed you have to work hard to get it back, a accelerating out of the corner to stop the invisible length of elastic that holds this line of riders from snapping rather than stretching.
All of us know this. So a race within a stage within the race begins – each rider fighting for each additional position, taking outlandish risks, brushing elbows and shouting insults and angry instructions. You want to take it easier but you understand that as soon as you do then others will come past you. You have to fight just to stay where you are. You have to match those risks or else you will go backwards while going forwards at an eye-watering speed. Sixty miles from the finish, almost two weeks to Paris, and we are racing flat out and wild-eyed.
In this situation I like to give myself a bit of space, a couple of bike lengths. At 50kph and faster, it could make the difference between crashing or staying up. The only problem is that the guys behind you will see this as weakness. ‘He’s losing the wheel. S***, I need to get past him.’ Boys, chill.
Glimpses of a dark jersey with white flash in the corner of my vision. A rider behind me, trying to get past when there is no room. Overlapping his front wheel with my back wheel, that’s where danger lies – a slight twitch either way from one of us and the tyres will touch and the bikes will buck and one of us, probably both, will be down.
You crash and you get back to your feet. You look for your bike and your glasses and you jump back on. You chase to get back amongst the noise and the living, and you worry about the injuries later."
You know what a broken collarbone means. It’s the end of the Tour. It’s another chance gone."
My sunglasses? They are in pieces on the road, where the other team cars have driven over them. Another pair gone, another Tour? No, not yet. Clipping in. Holding the handlebars gingerly, starting to pick up speed on the descent. Froome and Bardet and those around them are way ahead, gone into the wet distance, but this is no longer about hanging on to second place. It’s hoping for a miracle. It’s wanting to be part of this race more than anything else in the world, not watching it like a civilian, passive, distant.
Instead I gate-crashed their girls’ holiday, and it was great – normal nights out, everyone in a good mood, not a word of cycling talk. Wales rugby winger George North was on holiday in Cannes with his partner Becky James so they came out for a night. George, however, failed spectacularly to match my drinking and retired to bed at an hour when I was still going strong.
The hangover was stiff but so was the pride of outlasting a man of 6ft 4ins and 17 stone. Because my two big race targets had gone, I could recover the next day on the beach with an ice-cream. Racing cyclists do not eat ice-cream.
Follow this link to order Geraint Thomas’ new book, ‘The Tour According to G’ which is now available in the Team Sky Store