Going into this Olympic year, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas had lofty ambitions. Not just to enjoy protected rider status on his team at the Tour de France, but also to pick up an Olympic medal at the road race in Rio. So with two major wins to his name already (Paris-Nice and Volta ao Algarve), what has he made of the Great Disc Brake Debate of 2016, and the success of aero bikes on the cobbles?
“I’m all for moving technology forward, keeping on pushing,” says Thomas, speaking to BikeRadar just before the start of the Tour de France. “Obviously what happened in Paris-Roubaix [Movistar rider Fran Ventoso suffered deep gashes to his leg during a crash, allegedly caused by a disc brake rotor] wasn’t good and that needs to be sorted out, but at the same time if the whole peloton are on them then they’ll be better than normal brakes, especially in the wet.”
The march of technology
Anyone who’s read Thomas’ book The World of Cycling According to G will be aware of Team Sky’s culture of continuous improvement, and Thomas says that during his professional career things have certainly changed a great deal.
“Electric gears for instance, bikes are all a lot lighter and a lot stronger now. Wheels and tyres make a big difference too. I saw Brad [Wiggins]’s bikes at one of my sponsors’ HQ in London a couple of months ago, which he rode to win the Tour in 2012, and it looked so dated already. It’s crazy how quickly technology moves forward.
“Also we’ve got a new TT bike which I rode for the first time at the Tour de Suisse, and that obviously feels good, a good step forward, and we’ve got some new helmets. Small changes, but those small changes over a couple of years are quite big when you look back.”
Wet-weather clothing and Rio skinsuits
So what’s his favourite Team Sky kit? Aptly for a Welshman, it’s the wet-weather gear. (We say that being based in Bristol, just the other side of the Severn Bridge from Wales and with the exact same weather as they get).
“The Rapha softshell jacket is great for when it’s raining a bit but not a proper downpour. When it rains in racing, having good kit that you feel comfortable and warm in, that’s still pretty aero and not flapping in the wind or anything like that…
“The wet weather kit we have is the best that’s out there at the moment. That’s nice to know psychologically, that the bad weather won’t affect you as much as the other guys.”
There surely won’t be much need for rain gear in Rio at the Olympics – so does he know yet what they’ll be wearing? “I’m not too sure. We’ll get custom-made skinsuits, we got measured for that a month or so ago, but other than that everything else is pretty much the same stuff we’re used to racing day in, day out I think.”
Aero bikes on the cobbles
As an accomplished Classics rider, what did Thomas make of Mathew Hayman’s win of Paris-Roubaix this year, aboard a fully aero road bike, the Scott Foil? “I think [bike choice] is getting more and more specific now, and in races like Paris-Roubaix, aerodynamics come into it a lot.
“But it’s all about the rider and the comfort, how they feel on the cobbles. Mat Hayman is certainly a weathered pro, he’s comfortable on the cobbles, he can ride that bike comfortably, whereas someone else might struggle.”
Looking back a few years, Thomas recalls when Sweden’s Magnus Backstedt rode the same race with carbon wheels. “Everyone was just like, ‘What the hell are you doing, you need metal rims, 32 spokes’. Over time it changes though – I’d probably go down the aero route, because over six and a half hours of racing it makes a big difference.”
And what are his top tips for any BikeRadar readers looking to ride on the cobbles? “The main thing is to look forward, like 10 or 15m in front of where you are, pick your route out, a bit like mountain biking. In the middle isn’t necessarily the best route, just try to keep that momentum going.”
Geraint Thomas is the ambassador for bicycle insurer Protect Your Bubble. Their cycle insurance covers road bikes, hybrid bikes, mountain bikes, and more, against theft, accidental damage and vandalism. Discounts for insuring multiple bikes are available.