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The cyclist born to be in yellow – Geraint Thomas and the making of a new Tour de France hero

Geraint Thomas is two stages away from winning the Tour de France.
Geraint Thomas is two stages away from winning the Tour de France.
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What motivates Tour de France hero Geraint Thomas? The Team Sky rider spoke to The Yorkshire Post’s Tom Richmond.

Geraint Thomas is on the brink of becoming the first ever Welsh cyclist to win the Tour de France.

It’s been a long journey for the two-time Olympic champion who is cycling’s ultimate team man.

Prior to the 2014 Grand Depart in Yorkshire, he gave a revealing interview on what the sport meant to him – and his brushes with injury.

This is what he said.

GERAINT THOMAS has seen it all on

his bike. He has the medals and scars

to prove it. He’s the double Olympic

team pursuit champion who pedalled

2,000 miles with a fractured pelvis to

help Team Sky’s talisman Chris Froome

make Tour de France history last year.

Yet even this selfless hero is surprised

by the scale of this weekend’s Grand

Départ in Yorkshire, the sheer number

of cyclists on the region’s roads and the

1,000 bright yellow bicycles adorning

roundabouts along the route. “It’s nuts

here,” he observed.

Perhaps not the most eloquent

words spoken by a top sportsman in

the UK, their profoundness should

not be under-estimated. Spoken from

the heart, their rawness does, in fact,

offer a unique perspective – from the

saddle – on cycling’s journey into the

public’s consciousness, the staggering

enthusiasm for a sporting event

without comparison in Yorkshire and

how the whole country can benefit

from an ethos that has seen Britain

become the fastest nation on two

wheels.

For, while the eyes of the world will

inevitably be on Froome, and also star

sprinter Mark Cavendish’s quest to

win tomorrow’s opening stage in his

mother’s home town of Harrogate,

the eminently likable Thomas’s own

story of success explains why cycling

commands a higher profile than

cricket and a host of other mainstream

sports.

They’re important lessons about

community initiatives, a winning

mentality and having no regrets that

should not go unnoticed ahead of a

momentous weekend for sport in

Yorkshire – and Britain.

Despite the pressures on the public

finances, grassroots sport does matter

– and don’t let any penny-pinching

politician say otherwise. Even though

this engaging Welshman went to the

same state school as Gareth Bale, the

world’s most expensive footballer, and

British and Irish Lions skipper Sam

Warburton, he is an accidental cyclist.

“I was going swimming at the local

leisure centre and they had a kids’ club

which had just started. I made friends

and that was it,” recalled the 28-yearold.

“When I was a kid, cycling was a

niche sport. If your dad didn’t do it, or

someone in your family, you didn’t get

involved. It’s weird because everyone

has a bike when they’re a kid.”

Sustained sporting success does

also matter, another nod to those in

charge of the nation’s purse-strings.

Even though Thomas was already

a junior world champion when the

relatively unknown Jason Queally won

an unexpected gold on day one of the

2000 Sydney Olympics, he believes

that victory at the velodrome – and the

sheer simplicity of riders racing against

the clock – began Britain’s cycling

revolution and helped to power record

levels of interest in the sport.

“It started with the track. Definitely.

Focusing on the timed events, you

knew where you were or what you

had to do. It was against the clock,

the public could understand that. In

Sydney, we were successful. In Beijing,

we couldn’t have done better – the

sprinters won everything. Between

Beijing and London, you had Cav

winning 20-odd stages of the Tour and

Wiggo (Sir Bradley Wiggins) doing his

thing. Then Froomey. Crazy. The more

it is on the TV, and in the papers, the

more people become aware of cycling

and say ‘I’ll watch it’ and then get their

kids involved.”

As such, Thomas’s advice to children

as millions of spectators prepare to line

the route of the Tour’s first two stages

could not be more simple – or to the

point. “Do it with mates,” he says. “It’s

a great way to get outside. It’s a bit of

adventure when you’re young and you

go even five miles away. If you want to

race, look up your club on the internet.

See what is out there. Meet people and

away you go.”

In other words, parents need to be

encouraged to embrace cycling and

local councils should, in my opinion,

make sure every future planning

applications passes a cycle-friendliness

test – just because there is more traffic

on the road must not be a barrier to

children being able to ride for fun.

Yet it is the team dynamic to cycling

that so resonates with Thomas, who

uses a footballing analogy to describe

his sacrificial role as one of the cogs,

albeit an important one, within Team

Sky’s wheel of success. “Froomey is the

striker – I’d say our Wayne Rooney, but

I’d better not after the World Cup. More

your Robin van Persie! The rest of the

team are there to support him and set

him up. It is all geared to keeping him

out of trouble, protecting him from the

cross winds, and conserving as much

energy as possible for the big climbs.”

If only England’s footballers

appreciated this – and recognised the

sacrifices that cyclists make for their

team in a sport that Thomas likens, at

times, to “chess on wheels” because

of the tactics. On the opening stage

of last year’s Tour in Corsica, Thomas

fractured his pelvis during a pile-up.

Paris was still three weeks and 2,000

miles away. He refused to give up,

an attitude that puts to shame those

and team-mate Richie Porte. “Not

dead yet?” remarked Froome rather

sarcastically. “Go on, boys,” roared

Thomas. Froome’s recently-published

autobiography, The Climb, puts this

contribution into even more painful

perspective: “There was a crack in his

pelvis; on the X-ray, it looked like a

river. For normal people, this would

mean ceasing all activity. For G it

meant somebody had to give him a

hand getting his leg over the saddle.

After about five or six kilometres riding

on the big open promenade, Geraint

started moving up through the line. He

came and did a turn; he sustained our

high speed. What a lift. He filtered back

through the line, roaring in his Welsh

accent ‘Let’s have it! Gooo on! We’re

gonna do this!’ There was a buzz... he’d

left us with no excuses.”

Unsurprisingly, Thomas’s objective

tomorrow is a modest one: “Just stay

upright and not crash.” His mum, for

one, will be relieved. His second wish

is for Mark Cavendish to win the sprint

finish – and Chris Froome to emerge

unscathed from the Yorkshire Dales.

And his third priority is perhaps the

most profound.

“For people of all ages to realise the

enjoyment and pleasure that cycling

can provide. Just get on your bike and

see where it takes you.”

It’s what Geraint Thomas did and his

reward is a money-can’t-buy seat for

the Grand Départ – on the back of his

very own racing bicycle. And it could be

one of this weekend’s young spectators

if the Tour creates a lasting legacy.

Who’s next?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

molly-coddled footballers who feign

injury at every tackle.

“I saw it as a challenge to see

what I could do,” he says. “All that

commitment, all that training, and to

crash on day one. The first five days

were the worst. The boys got a lot from

me just getting through. It was just

excruciating. I could pedal, it was ok. It

was the top part of my pelvis. My whole

left side and hip was beaten up so I

couldn’t get much power out of the left.

I was pedalling with one leg. I couldn’t

really get out of the saddle for the whole

race. People told me to stop, my mum

said it would be ok if I did, but I couldn’t

because I knew I could help later in

the race.”

He did. In an astonishing act

of sporting defiance, the virtually

one-legged Thomas surged to the

front of the peloton to join Froome

and team-mate Richie Porte. “Not

dead yet?” remarked Froome rather

sarcastically. “Go on, boys,” roared

Thomas. Froome’s recently-published

autobiography, The Climb, puts this

contribution into even more painful

perspective: “There was a crack in his

pelvis; on the X-ray, it looked like a

river. For normal people, this would

mean ceasing all activity. For G it

meant somebody had to give him a

hand getting his leg over the saddle.

After about five or six kilometres riding

on the big open promenade, Geraint

started moving up through the line. He

came and did a turn; he sustained our

high speed. What a lift. He filtered back

through the line, roaring in his Welsh

accent ‘Let’s have it! Gooo on! We’re

gonna do this!’ There was a buzz... he’d

left us with no excuses.”

Unsurprisingly, Thomas’s objective

tomorrow is a modest one: “Just stay

upright and not crash.” His mum, for

one, will be relieved. His second wish

is for Mark Cavendish to win the sprint

finish – and Chris Froome to emerge

unscathed from the Yorkshire Dales.

And his third priority is perhaps the

most profound.

“For people of all ages to realise the

enjoyment and pleasure that cycling

can provide. Just get on your bike and

see where it takes you.”

It’s what Geraint Thomas did and his

reward is a money-can’t-buy seat for

the Grand Départ – on the back of his

very own racing bicycle. And it could be

one of this weekend’s young spectators

if the Tour creates a lasting legacy.

Who’s next?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk