Geraint Thomas faces 'first big test' as Giro d'Italia hits the Alps

 Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) on stage 12 at the Giro d'Italia
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In the end, it was the rarest of things, a quiet day on the Giro d’Italia. Amid a race of such untold attrition, Geraint Thomas and the bulk of the gruppo must have been grateful for a small mercy like this on the road to Rivoli on stage 12.

For Ineos, a day where nothing happened must have felt like heaven after the trauma of the previous afternoon, when Tao Geoghegan Hart crashed out of the race with a broken hip, an incident in which Thomas was himself an unscathed faller.

In keeping with this year’s vintage, however, there was still a fraught start to stage 12 once the race left Bra, with an intense scramble for the early break on the long rise through the heart of the Langhe from Barolo to Peddagera.

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The presence of two Jumbo-Visma riders in the group of 30 that eventually went clear called for some vigilance, but Thomas’ main concern was that no GC contenders were aboard the move. His Ineos squad policed the peloton from there, and there would be no frissons on the day’s main obstacle, the Colle Braida, where Pavel Sivakov – a heavy faller on Wednesday – controlled affairs.

“It was a good day for the team,” Thomas said. “It was a tough start, but the boys did a good job of controlling the break. We weren’t concerned about the size of the group because we had the guys up front that we wanted – no one from GC, basically.

“Pavel showed he’s alright after yesterday, for sure, when he did the last 40-odd k, the climb all the way to the finish. He showed he’s a tough cookie.”

Crans-Montana

For Ineos, the relatively gentle roll towards the hinterland of Turin offered a chance to steady themselves after the tumult of the previous afternoon. Prior to the crash, Geoghegan Hart lay just five seconds off Thomas in third place overall, while the team had no fewer than five riders in the top eleven.

Although Thomas retains the maglia rosa, two seconds clear of Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Ineos’ hand is undoubtedly weakened by the departure of Geoghegan Hart and the time loss incurred by Sivakov on stage 11. The Giro’s entry into the Alps on the road to Crans-Montana on Friday will provide a sterner examination of how well they have weathered this recent storm.

“There’s definitely a lot going on tomorrow,” Thomas said. “I think it’s the first big test, we have three big climbs… Well, it depends on what we actually do, because I’ve heard rumours it could be adapted because of the weather. But we’ll tackle whatever’s in front of us, try to stay warm as possible, that’s key tomorrow.”

Shortly after Thomas’ press conference had concluded, RCS Sport confirmed that all three climbs would feature as planned, despite the grim recent conditions, namely the abridged Col du Grand Saint-Bernard and the Croix de Coeur as well as the final haul to Crans-Montana.

“The final climb is a tough one. We haven’t raced really to the top of a climb yet, it will be a big test for the whole peloton, especially for the GC guys, to race up and see where we’re all at,” Thomas said.

“Coming from Wales, I’m used to the cold and wet, so hopefully, it doesn’t affect me too much. We took a blow yesterday, but we bounced back well. The morale is high, and we’re super motivated to get a good result tomorrow.”

In recent days, the standings at this Giro have been re-defined by a succession of crashes and COVID-19 cases, but last Saturday’s short but steep ascent of I Cappuccini did suggest a hierarchy of sorts when the road rises, with Thomas – and the now-absent Geoghegan Hart – the only riders able to bridge across to Roglič’s stinging attack.

The day also hinted at a contrast in styles between the two big favourites for this Giro. Roglič can accelerate more sharply than Thomas, but the Welshman’s ability to read a climb has often stood him in good stead. This measured style carried him to the podium of last year’s Tour de France, and it might take him a long way in a race of attrition like this one.

“I think the best way for me to get from the bottom to the top of a climb quickest is kind of to treat it like a time trial sometimes,” Thomas said. “But ultimately, you kind of have to adapt to the race.”