Geraint Thomas relishing Tadej Pogačar challenge at the Giro d’Italia

'He’ll have a massive legacy as one of the greatest bike riders ever' Ineos Grenadiers rider says of his Slovenian opposition

Clock08:21, Sunday 28th January 2024

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Geraint Thomas following an attack from Tadej Pogačar at Tirreno Adriatico in 2021

Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) knows that Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) will start the Giro d’Italia in May as the outright favourite for the overall victory, but that doesn’t mean that the Welshman isn’t excited about taking on the generational talent in the first Grand Tour of the season.

Both Thomas and Pogačar will head to the Giro before descending on the Tour de France in the summer but the Italian Grand Tour will see the pair go head-to-head for the first time since the 2022 Tour.

On that occasion Pogačar finished second overall with Thomas a distant third but the Ineos rider returns to Italy for the second consecutive season, having finished just 14 seconds shy of the win last year. The 37-year-old is under no illusions with regards to the challenge he faces this time around.

“He’s Pogačar and I’d prefer if he wasn’t going but at the same time having him there is great,” Thomas told GCN in an exclusive video interview this week.

“It’ll change the race completely and his team will take the weight of the race and everything but in years to come he’ll have a massive legacy as one of the greatest bike riders ever. I’m not retiring him already but he’s incredible, so just to be competitive with him and go for the same thing is exciting.

"At the end of the day so much can happen, and go right and wrong. I certainly know a lot about that. We’ll see. I’m relishing the challenge. It’s a big goal.”

On paper, it’s hard to see where Thomas has the outright edge over his Slovenian opposition. Pogačar has probably had three bad days on the bike in the last four years but the Giro isn’t raced in the same manner as the Tour, and it’s a far more unpredictable challenge.

When asked where he had an advantage over his younger rival, Thomas said: “The experience but he’s some boy. He’ll be hard to beat. We’ll have a strong team, it won’t be a super A squad but it will still be really strong. I’m not sure what UAE will bring but we’ll think a bit outside the box and race the race.

“In the past, that happens,” Thomas said in light of the fact that pre-race favourites have often come unstuck at the Giro.

“And it’s the Giro so there’s the weather and the roads. There’s always something in there that happens. We’ll see.”

Heading into what will likely be his final two years as a professional athlete, Thomas is motivated by the notion of racing back-to-back Grand Tours. Returning to the Giro allows him one final crack of winning the maglia rosa, while he was melancholy after missing last year’s Tour de France.

“It’s just a massive challenge to be at my best for that length of time, and I’ve never done it. For me, it will take a lot of mental effort, as well as physical. It’s something that excites me really. It makes me scared, as well, but that’s a good thing. It’s my 19th year as a pro, so it’s good to mix things up a bit and this will keep me dialled, focused and on it.

"Also, I thought to myself, what could I lose? I’ll go to the Giro, get the best result there and then stay on it as best that I can and then go to the Tour in the best shape that I can. Whether that means I’m racing for myself or I’m helping Carlos Rodríguez in the high mountains or riding on the flat, I don’t know. But that’s part of the excitement too,” he told GCN.

“I spoke to my coach Connor back in December about doing both and he felt that it was physically doable but that it was just down to the mental side and the nutrition. That started a whole discussion with the team but when we finally came to the decision it felt like a boom, and then suddenly everything went up a level. When you know you’re definitely doing something you think to yourself ‘fuck I’ve got to be on this now at 100 per cent’."

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