Thomas confident ahead of imposing climb up Mount Etna

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BBC Wales Sport catches up with Geraint Thomas on his 'rest day'

There is nothing restful about a rest day when you are the leader of a cycling team in the midst of a gruelling, three-week Giro d'Italia.

After three stages of his first race as a Grand Tour leader, Geraint Thomas and his Team Sky colleagues have travelled from Sardinia to Sicily, where they are preparing for Tuesday's imposing climb up Mount Etna.

Tucked away in the coarse hillsides overlooking the port city of Palermo, the team's hotel is a serene hideaway for the riders, whose 'day off' consists of a 90 minute ride through the Sicilian countryside.

"It's just to keep the body going. Personally, I feel like I can get quite lethargic if I have a day off, especially with tomorrow being such a big day," Thomas tells BBC Wales Sport.

This year's Giro is still in its infancy and, with Thomas 11th in the general classification, all is going according to plan as he and his leading rivals bide their time in the middle rungs of the standings.

According to the Welshman, the first three stages in Sardinia were about "staying out of trouble", conserving energy and staying in contention.

Mission accomplished so far, then. Now for the first real test.

Tuesday's fourth stage from Cefalu to Mount Etna is 181km long and includes two significant climbs, the second of which features narrowed roads and culminates in a summit 1,892 metres high.

Could this be the day the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia starts in earnest?

"Yeah, it's the first big GC [general classication] day and there's another big mountain day on Sunday, so they're the big days this week," Thomas adds.

"Tomorrow is the first big test and we get to see where everyone's at really."

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Geraint Thomas 'happy' with progress after third stage

The favourites make their move

Among the opponents Thomas will be paying particularly close attention to will be overwhelming pre-race favourite Nairo Quintana and reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali.

Both are renowned climbers and multiple Grand Tour winners, and Thomas thinks the fourth stage could be the moment when they make their first move.

"I think so. You're not going to win the race tomorrow but I think if someone can have a good day and gain some time on everyone, it's good for morale," the 30-year-old says.

"Everyone's going to be racing 100% to get the best result possible. The last week is where the race is going to be won but, at the same time, if people can gain 30 seconds or even more [on Tuesday] it's a big boost.

"The likes of Quintana and Nibali, they're born climbers and I certainly wasn't born to climb but I think it's something I've improved a lot, and hopefully I can hang in with the big boys."

A grin flashes across Thomas' face when he bashfully plays down his ability in the mountains, but it is a part of his armoury on which he has worked tirelessly.

Climbing specialist

His co-leader in Italy, Mikel Landa, is a climbing specialist, and Team Sky's boss, Sir Dave Brailsford, has said he has assembled a group of riders for this race specifically designed to tackle the mountains.

"It's a team built around that, and it's still weird when people class me as a climber because, only being able to climb the last few years, it's still strange to hear that," Thomas says.

"Every year on the tour I've been climbing better and better, especially since focusing on the road after 2012 on the track.

"Each year I've felt more confident on the climbs, winning races like Paris-Nice and the Tour of the Alps. I'm certainly confident I can be there or thereabouts."

Thomas' improvement in the mountains has played a big part in his growing reputation as a rider with one of the most rounded skill sets on the tour.

He is expected to impress in the Giro's two time trials and, when the moment presents itself in any given stage, he has the raw racing intuition to attack.

"When it comes to the crunch time of the race, a lot of the time I race on instinct like I was a junior again," Thomas says.

"You don't really think, the moment seems right and you just go, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

"Just to be in a race like that and racing for the win, going off instinct, there's no better feeling really."

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