‘G’: the rugby-loving, beer-drinking ‘guy next door’ who won the Tour
A profile of the newest yellow jersey
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini
As a “guy next door” known for being the life and soul of the party and watching rugby while slugging the odd pint, Welshman Geraint Thomas is unlikely to let his maiden Tour de France victory go to his head. Thomas, known affectionately as ‘G’, might spend a major part of his year training in the hills around the plush Principality of Monaco, where he lives with wife Sara. But if there’s a more down-to-earth rider or likeable rider than the 32-year-old from Cardiff, he’s yet to be found. “He’s like the guy next door – nobody has a bad word to say about him,” said Dave Brailsford, the principal of a Sky team that, thanks to Thomas, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, have won cycling’s marquee event six times in the past seven editions. “You couldn’t find a prouder Welshman. When he’s on the bike he makes the sacrifices but when he’s not, he’s the life and soul of the party. And like most Welshmen, he likes to have a pint and start singing.”
If proof were needed of Thomas’s affable and unassuming nature, it came at the finish line of Saturday’s penultimate stage time trial, where he finished 14 seconds behind winner and yellow jersey rival Tom Dumoulin to virtually secure his overall victory. After crying out with emotion, Thomas hugged Brailsford, grabbed a Wales flag, and just about “everyone” within touching distance, as he posed for the first photos of his impending triumph. Hours later, the two-time Olympic team pursuit champion was still in disbelief as years of battling on the road, following a successful track career, edged him towards the ultimate cycling destination — the top step of the Tour podium in Paris. “It’s incredible just to be sat here with this jersey, it’s insane,” said Thomas, a former pupil of the Whitchurch High School in Cardiff whose alumni include former Wales and Lions rugby captain Sam Warburton and Real Madrid football star Gareth Bale. If there is extra emotion, it’s because Thomas’s win has been a long time in the making.
A key helper in Froome’s previous four Tour wins, there was a general feeling on this race — backed by a superb win in the Criterium du Dauphine stage race and fears that Froome’s Giro d’Italia-winning efforts would soon tell — that it may be time for payback. Two back-to-back wins in the high Alps, when Thomas earned an “incredible” victory atop the legendary Alpe d’Huez, cemented his status as Team Sky’s leader over Froome, who dropped to 1:39 behind. From then on, Thomas rode to perfection, using cunning, race tactics and sheer determination on a suffer-fest that he will never forget. “That was the most I’d ever suffered, day in, day out,” said Thomas. “He seems quite relaxed, but inside he knows how to suffer,” said Brailsford. “He’s a fighter.”
Thomas’s work ethic, openness and friendly, down-to-earth nature also means he is one of the most respected riders in the pro peloton.”I went to his wedding, so I think we’re mates!” South African champion Daryl Impey told AFP. A former teammate of Thomas’s and Froome’s at Barloworld, when the Welshman was “maybe 10 kilograms heavier”, Impey has seen him develop from an Olympic gold medal-winning pursuit specialist into a consistently strong performer on the road. “G’s a great guy. Even back when we rode together in Barloworld, he was always ready to bury himself for his teammates,” added Impey. “Now he’s had the opportunity, and he’s seizing it. He spent most of the Tour in 2007 riding behind the peloton, dropped. But he still finished it,” said Brailsford as he remembered Thomas maiden Tour, when he was the youngest to start. “Now, he’s being repaid for all the years of hard work and sacrifice he has made for the team.”
For Froome, victory could not have gone elsewhere: “He’s been a massive part of my Tour victories. If he was going to be on the podium, he was going to be on the top step.”