Geraint Thomas feared his chance to win the Giro d’Italia was long gone, but the new race leader says he aims to prove the doubters wrong again.
Thomas has inherited the maglia rosa following Belgian Remco Evenepoel’s withdrawal on Sunday due to Covid-19.
The world champion was the latest rider to test positive, prompting organisers to impose a string of new regulations.
However, Thomas, 36, could be forgiven for a sense of schadenfreude given his own cursed luck in Italy.
The former Tour de France winner had hoped this year might prove third time lucky at the Giro.
A police motorbike caused him to crash out in 2017 before a stray water bottle in the neutral zone ended his race with a fractured hip three years later.
“It would be amazing to win, especially after 2020 when I thought that was it for my chance to win the Giro,” he said.
“I would love to add to my palmares, but there’s a long way to go yet. The race has only just started.”
Speaking from the Ineos Grenadiers hotel on rest day, Thomas admitted he had expected to be up to 90 seconds off pole position at this stage, before the race heads into the mountains. Now he has a target on his back.
“I don’t feel much pressure or expectation, but I’d love to take this opportunity,” he said.
“A lot of people seem to write me off, but I proved them wrong last year. I guess this is just a bonus.
“As you get towards the end of your career you realise how lucky you are to do this for a living and it’s not going to last forever. So I’m going to make the most of it.”
It is difficult to justify doubts over a double Olympic track champion who has stood on all three positions of the Tour de France podium, including third last year.
He turns 37 on the day of stage 18 and admitted missing the early part of the year through illness could yet prove a “blessing” with his cycling numbers – the lifeblood of racing – as high as ever.
So with fresh legs, he has the experience, leader’s jersey and strength in numbers around him in a wide open race.
Fellow Brit Tao Geoghan Hart is third, just five seconds behind Thomas, opening the possibility of taking on pre-race favourite Primoz Roglic with a pincer movement.
“That experience is definitely a big advantage because I know my body. I can judge my efforts and I’m actually feeling as strong as ever. But our biggest strength is the team,” he said.
“Tao is still co-leader and we’ll see who has the best chance as the race develops.
“But we have a few cards to play and it’s about using each other, not being selfish and using the strength of the team.”
While Thomas wants to forget the 2020 edition, this race now has a distinctly 2020 feel to it with race organisers belatedly introducing Covid regulations.
Evenepoel was the seventh rider to withdraw after testing positive, a decision taken jointly between team doctors, race doctors and commissaires.
Face masks are returning to all public areas around the race and such is the renewed concern, that Ineos riders opted not to stop for a usual mid-ride coffee on their rest day.
“I was shocked when I heard Remco was out. He messaged me beforehand and at first I thought it was a wind up. But it’s a real shame for the race to lose the world champion,” said Thomas.
“I was looking forward to the GC battle with him and the others, but the race goes on and I’m more than happy to pull on the pink jersey.”
The race resumes on Tuesday, 16 May with stage 10 covering 196km from Scandiano to Viareggio.
Updated general classification
- Geraint Thomas (GB/Ineos Grenadiers) 34hrs 34mins 27secs
- Primoz Roglic (Slo/Jumbo-Visma) +3secs
- Tao Geoghegan Hart (GB/Ineos Grenadiers) +5 secs
- Joao Almeida (Por/UAE Team Emirates) +22secs
- Andreas Leknessund (Nor/Team DSM) Same time
- Aleksandr Vlasov (Neutral/Bora-Hansgrohe) +1min 3secs
- Damiano Caruso (Ita/Bahrain Victorious) +1mins 28secs
- Lennard Kämna (Ger/Bora-Hansgrohe) +1mins 52secs
- Pavel Sivakov (Fra/Ineos Grenadiers) +2mins 15secs
- Jay Vine (Aus/UAE Team Emirates) +2mins 24secs