the tour according to g - my journey to the yellow jersey. geraint thomas with tom fordyce. quercus publishing hardback 292pp illus. £20

the tour according to g - geraint thomas

we're almost back where we were a few days ago in respect of next year's tour de france. having announced the route of the 2019 event, prognostications have already begun in earnest as to who the parcours might favour over those three weeks in july. and in what we have all come to recognise as changed days, british riders have their names firmly in the frame for overall victory. except, where once those names included prince bradley and froomey, there is another team sky rider with his name on the list of aspirants; welshman, geraint thomas.

with chris froome having at least half expected to equal the greats of the sport, by capturing his fifth tour victory, team sky's strategy was pretty much based on that particular outcome, once again assembling a team of riders who were expecetd to sacrifice any ambitions of their own to ensure mr froome stood atop the champs elysées podium. the fact that this turned out not to be the case was possibly a bit of a surprise to all those concerned.

this blow by blow account of the 2019 event in which he emerged victorious, offers a remarkably self-effacing insight into the daily travails of a rider coming to terms with his own remarkable abilities. and over the course of those 21 days, thomas had not only to deal with the fact that he was homing in on victory, but that he was doing so at the expense of his annointed team leader. the tour according to g however, begins with the 2017 tour, where thomas was sitting in second place, behind froome and having already worn the yellow jersey in the race's early stages.

then..."...the next, my bike is on (Majka's) and the road is slamming me from the side. [...] Get back on and ride. Except this time, I can't get up."

so the 2018 race was thomas's opportunity to redress the balance; ..."we come here reduced. You know you are ready for the Tour de France when you pull on your belt and find you need to make another hole." logically, if the book were confined simply to the racing line, there's always the possibility the narrative would have become remarkably dry. aside from which, we all know the result and thanks to itv4 and eurosport, we've seen pretty much every kilometre of every stage. though, as peter sagan mentioned, every rider has a different story to tell from the fellow riding alongisde in the peloton, so what we'd hope for amongst the almost 300 pages, would be geraint's tour; in other words, filling in the gaps between one stage end and the next day's start.

that's precisely what we get.

however, reinforcing what most of the daily post race interviews tended to underline, thomas did not necessarily have his sights set on yellow from the get go. "I wasn't thinking about Paris in three weeks' time. I wasn't thinking about a win, or a podium, or even a top five finish. It was the journey rather than the destination." if chris froome was aware of this, it was doubtless of great consolation. a team leader likely has to assess the competition and it surely makes life easier if you don't have to factor in one of your own team.

though thomas may arguably have been a more welcome victor than chris froome as far as the french fans were concerned, thomas was undeniably aware of the portions of ill-feeling directed towards team sky even before the first wheel had turned. "At the team presentation, there were boos from a section of the crowd when we Sky riders rode onto the platform." but even at this point, thomas may have felt a certain sympathy for those jeers, given that his aspirations for the season had already been altered both by his team and team leader.

"The plan at the end of 2017 had been that I would be given another shot at the Giro. The Tour would be Chris's. I would ride for him there if I still had the legs. Then it all changed."

due to the delay in starting the 2018 tour to avoid a clash with the world cup, froome decided that he'd give the giro a shot, it being the only grand tour missing from his palmares. "The Giro is for Chris. You can ride for him, or you can go to the Tour and race there." [...] I couldn't pretend I wasn't disappointed. [...] Why has he got to do that." it appears that froome may have had cause to reconsider the direction from which his challenges might arise.

directeur sportif for team sky at this year's tour was nicolas portal who gave thomas an answer similar to that espoused by dave brailsford when asked how he might fit into the team strategy. essentially, everyone was there to escort froome to the yellow jersey, but as a token gesture, it would seem, thomas was free "to ride as you like around that." froome and thomas apparently did not discuss the situation at length, but the former saw no reason why the latter couldn't join him on the podium. "If you ride for me, G, then it would only be at the death, right towards the top of the toughest climbs."

as it turned out, thomas took the yellow jersey on stage eleven, with froome in second place, a situation that continued until stage 17, when froome was deposed by tom dumoulin. confusion reigned; was froome still the team leader, or did that designation now belong to thomas? that the same question had occurred to thomas after stage six, when he rose from fourth place to second, behind greg van avermaet is demonstrated after an air transfer to lake annecy.

"There was a big air-conditioning unit in the (hotel) corridor that I could drag into my room. [...] Tonight I wanted it. We all did. Unfortunately, when all eight riders turned their units on, the power surge was so great that it cut the hotel's electricity. Consternation in the corridors [...] Only one rider can have it on. That rider is Froomey."

at that early stage of the race, thomas was more than one minute ahead of froome, a situation that appeared not to carry too much sway with the team sky management. "Sometimes it's the smallest clues that tell you where you really stand." In the real world, that's probably the equivalent of being overlooked for promotion at the expense of a colleague whose sales figures were less impressive than your own.

newspaper features in both the national and cycling media have paid heed to the alleged disquiet felt by thomas with team sky's tour strategy during the race, but aside from the above quibbles, i'd find it hard to agree with this appraisal. granted, thomas's daily assurance in post race interviews, that he wasn't thinking of still wearing yellow in paris, pledging his allegiance to his team leader, may simply have been a case of toeing the party line, confident in his own abilities and waiting with glee to laugh in the face of implied adversity. however, froome hardly blotted his copybook.

much later in the race, when thomas was almost certain to take victory,"Chris definitely wanted to win that day and to win the Tour. But he wasn't attacking to stop me winning. He was doing what great champions do. [...] Geraint, he told the worlds media, is now our number one. For the next three days, I'm riding for him."

when you consider quite how many hours of television were devoted to this year's tour de france, to say little of the column inches in print and the untold kilometres of pixels too, a book that not only has you looking that the race with fresh eyes while all but equalling the excitement of the original race, is a not inconsiderable achievement all of its own. add to that a well-written, well-paced narrative and you have a publication that, in my case at least, exceeded expectation. when the press release arrived in early august, my cynicism figured this to be a blatant attempt to add to thomas's tour winnings at the expense of gullible fans.

nothing could be further from the truth.

granted, there is evidence of mild literary padding and i'm afraid i found the short interspersions from sara thomas, rod ellingworth and tim kerrison a tad unnecessary. nonetheless, thomas thoroughly deserves more than his fifteen minutes of fame, of which this book forms a salutory part. and aside from my well-meant plaudits, for some of us, the fact that a book about the tour has been published a matter of months after its conclusion is almost a revelation in itself.

a very good book about a very good rider in a very good tour.

friday 9 november 2018

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................