At times, even a season as recent as 2015 can feel like ancient history in cycling. When looking back at highlights from that year, like Alberto Contador winning the Giro d’Italia or Chris Froome taking his second Tour de France, the time gap seems unbridgeable.
But for proof that 2015 is not so distant, it’s worth recalling that Geraint Thomas – prior to his own Tour de France victory and multiple other Grand Tour successes – rode his only Vuelta a España to date that September. It was not a happy experience
“I wouldn’t say I raced it,” the Ineos Grenadiers pro tells Cyclingnews in the countdown to his return to the Vuelta on Saturday. “I was just a passenger.
“It was just too much for me, to go to the Classics, and then the Tour. I remember the pre-race ride at the Vuelta and I was asking myself ‘What am I doing here?’ I felt like dogshit.
“Things never got any better from there, they just got worse. We lost Froomey half way through [the Sky leader for the Vuelta broke his ankle after crashing in Andorra] and so we had no focus. It’ll be nice to go and have a better experience.”
Even back then, despite Thomas’ focus on the Spring Classics – he’d won E3 Harelbeke that March and run third in Gent-Wevelgem – the Welshman had already developed into a ‘Plan B’ for GC for Sky and had been running fourth overall as far as the Alps at that July’s Tour.
A memorably terrible stage to La Toussuire – “some days in cycling you’re the hammer, other days you’re the nail, and today I was a cheap Ikea nail,” was his typically wry description at the time – put paid to that plan and likely with it any vague chance of him contemplating a GC battle in the Vuelta. But fortunately a lot more water has gone under the bridge since then and that’ll be more than reflected on his return to the Spanish Grand Tour.
“To be honest, ever since I won the Tour de France, I feel like I’ve been constantly having bonus rounds, just enjoying riding my bike,” Thomas says.
“Winning the Tour took the pressure off myself because I always knew I could do something but there was always some little mishap or something along the way. But that year was ideal, nothing went wrong.
“Since then I still feel like I’ve got a point to prove, and when I was writing the book [his autobiography] with Tom Fordyce I heard myself saying it about ten times about proving people wrong and that is a bit of a motivator for me.
“But when it comes to the Vuelta,…