Sometimes, I swear our phones can read our minds. As I was scrolling through my photo memories at the weekend, a picture popped up from 2009 I had completely forgotten about.
It was taken in a town in the Tuscan region of Quarrata and featured me and my friend and producer at the time, Lia Hervey, crouched in front of a bunch of cyclists.
All Lycra (them), smiles (us) and youthful vigour (take your pick), the photo brought me back to the assignment I’d been on for Sky News at the time; announcing the first signings of the soon-to-be new super team in cycling, Team Sky.
There was future British champion Ben Swift, Classics star Ian Stannard, Tour de France stage winner Steve Cummings, and a young rider in a Barloworld kit, who had made a name for himself on the track.
Looking at the picture, I suddenly recalled his reply when we referenced capturing the moment before his big signing. ‘You’ll look back on this photo when you become a big deal,’ we said. ‘What do you mean?’ came the answer. ‘I already am a big deal.’
At the time I couldn’t quite read the tone of the quip from someone who was, admittedly, already Olympic and double world champion on the track, but was far from a household name.
I’ve since learned that deadpan humour is one of the trademarks of Geraint Thomas (right). And whether he had been already is now a moot point, because a big deal he certainly is.
In the 14 years since that picture, the Welshman has won the most prestigious bike race in the world, the Tour de France, twice more finished on the podium, won multiple top races on the road and added another Olympic, Commonwealth and world title to his name. What he hadn’t done, until last week, was wear the leader’s jersey of the Giro d’Italia.
Geraint came into the Giro in typically understated fashion. This is a rider who, after all, struggled to convince of his ability to win the Tour, even as he was wearing the leader’s jersey and beating the best to the top of the most iconic climb, Alpe d’Huez.
Despite a podium place in Paris last year, the Welshman wasn’t seen as a genuine favourite coming into this Giro. He is without a win this year but the master of stealth is at it again.
After the pre-race favourite Remco Evenepoel left with Covid, Thomas inherited the pink jersey with the slenderest of two-second margins over the other big contender and fellow Tour de France podium finisher, Primoz Roglic. He’s since handed over the jersey but keeps the buffer over Roglic as we enter a brutal final week.
Before the Giro’s brutal final week there’s no sign of pressure, that’s just not what Thomas does
With most expecting Roglic and his Jumbo Visma team to pounce on a whim, there’s no sign of pressure, that’s just not what Thomas does. His almost daily dad jokes on social media and unflappable amiability have earned him the vocal support of Hollywood actor Ben Stiller, who has been thrilling the cycling world by dropping in via Twitter to back G all the way.
Whatever the mountains of Italy hold in store, there is a feeling of coming full circle for Geraint and that Quarrata crew.
Stannard and Cummings have since retired, but Swift is still by his side, grinding out the road they have shared for most of their professional lives. Missing from that picture, and the original Sky line-up, was another British rider local to the area, whose face was plastered over the news stands in the town square at the time for having recently won the hugely prestigious Milan San Remo race; Mark Cavendish.
When we talk of coming full circle, the rider who would go on to become the greatest sprinter the Tour de France has ever seen, used yesterday’s Giro rest day to announce his retirement at the end of this season.
There is much more to write about the Manxman’s magnificent career, which I will do as he continues to ride it, but with both riders currently making the headlines for very different reasons, it is a fitting moment to be grateful, as a sports fan, as a cycling fan, for each of their contributions to British sporting history.
For neither of them is it job yet done. There is at least another page in the history books set aside for each of them, if the story writes in their favour. Whether Cavendish secures the outright record for stage wins at the Tour de France this summer, whether Thomas can add another Grand Tour to his list of achievements in Rome next week, both continue to be a ‘big deal’ in cycling.
Coming a decade after the height of a golden age of the sport in Britain that both riders helped create, that fact is, in itself, a big deal indeed.
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