Tour de France 2015: What next for Geraint Thomas?
After Geraint Thomas' impressive display at the Tour de France helped Chris Froome win a second title, BBC Wales Sport's Steve James assesses the Welsh cyclist's remarkable year and looks at what might happen next.
2015 is most definitely a standout year for Geraint Thomas. It started with victory in the Tour of the Algarve, brought him a first classic win, and will end with marriage to longtime girlfriend Sara.
This year, Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford wanted Thomas to believe he could be a leader. And this year he proved it, not just to himself but to everyone in cycling.
In the end the journey to Paris was two Alpine days too long for the 29-year-old from Cardiff but, before his tanks spluttered to 'empty', his reputation had soared as much as the climbs he conquered during the second week of this year's Tour de France.
Thomas had signalled his huge talent as early as 2004 when he won the junior version of Paris Roubaix, the cobbled spring classic known as 'the Hell of the North'.
With a powerful, aggressive riding style and indefatigable determination that belied his calm and laidback nature, it was easy to see him as a one-day specialist. He even loves riding in the cold and rain. As he said on a wet day in the Tour: "It reminds me of being home in Wales".
But those who worked closely with him knew he had much more to offer than that. There was an early victory in a small stage race, the Fleche du Sud. There were World Championship and then Olympic gold medals on the track.
And therein lies the problem. Thomas sacrificed the 2012 Tour de France so he could return to the track and win a second team pursuit gold. And he sacrificed himself to the team.
|Born: Cardiff, 25 May, 1986.|
|Teams: Saunier Duval-Prodir (2006), Recycling.co.uk (2006), Barloworld (2007-09), Team Sky (2010-present)|
|Stage Race Victories: Fleche du Sud (2006), Bayern-Rundfahrt (2011, 2014), Volta ao Algarve (2015)|
|Tour de France: 2007: 140th; 2010: 67th; 2011: 31st; 2013: 140th;, 2014: 22nd; 2015: 15th|
|Giro d'Italia: 2008 118th , 2012 80th|
Brailsford agrees his versatility and willingness to be the team player has held his fellow Welshman back.
"He's one of the world's most versatile riders. The challenge for Geraint is that he can get dragged into helping out in all scenarios," said the man who made Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome Tour winners.
"He has to be right up there with the best all-round riders in the world. The big question is can he sustain a challenge in the high mountains over three weeks?"
On the face of it, the answer in this year's Tour was 'not quite'. He suffered a 'jour sans' on the penultimate day in the Alps, a day when he was empty.
"Sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail," Thomas said at the time. "I just didn't have anything."
But other big names also suffered bad days, without having had to expend all the extra energy Thomas put into shepherding Froome through the crosswinds, cobbles and chaos of the first week. Or pacing, chasing and dishing out the punishment to Froome's rivals on the climbs of weeks two and three.
Strong on the first two days in the Alps, and before that the three days in the Pyrenees, he matched the overall contenders and fared better than notable climbing specialists.
"Geraint should get a yellow jersey"
As 'super domestique' to Froome, he played a major part in propelling the Team Sky leader into yellow.
Despite focussing primarily on supporting the 2013 champion, Thomas' high-placed finishes brought him fifth place and huge praise from all quarters.
Head of Tour rivals Cannondale-Garmin, Jonathan Vaughters, said: "Geraint Thomas should get a yellow jersey. He would be an outright leader on any other team in the world".
During the Tour it emerged one other team had tried to sign him this year. MTN-Qhubeka made an approach to see if they could take him on loan.
Brailsford declined and was quoted saying: "We wouldn't loan Geraint to the Queen!"
The Welsh rider signed his last contract in 2014. It was a two-year deal, so next year he can expect to receive plenty of offers to leave Team Sky.
|Cycling salaries vary from £35,000 for neo-pros to 100 times that amount for top riders such Froome, Alberto Contador and Mark Cavendish. The workers for the big-hitters, the 'domestiques', will generally receive between £150,000 and £800,000. As a 'super-domestique' (a rider who can win stages, smaller tours or one day races in their own right as well as being a key right hand man to the team's number one), Thomas is likely a little higher than the middle of that range. Now he's looking at seven-figure territory from any sponsor that wants to snatch him away from Team Sky.|
With the biggest budget of any team, Brailsford can afford to give Geraint a substantial raise, and the well-grounded rider has always expressed his happiness with the fit within the British squad.
But will he get the major opportunities he clearly deserves?
"Geraint is going from strength to strength," the Sky Team principal and former British Cycling supremo told BBC Radio Wales Sport.
"His opportunity to ride Grand Tours, try and lead the team at stage races is becoming clear. That's the way it's going to go."
Opportunities, however, are limited. Italy, France and Spain are the only three-week tours, and Chris Froome will head to the Spanish Vuelta at the end of August, with Thomas again the support act.
Having become the first British rider to win the French Tour twice, Froome insists he is hungry to win a lot more, and Thomas has ruled himself out of riding the Giro d'Italia next year with both Le Tour and the Olympics among his objectives.
Marrying the talent and ambitions of both men might be difficult, though when it comes to this close season the heavily courted Welshman will have a quite different marriage on his mind.