Geraint Thomas opted to skip Saturday’s warm-up criterium at the Santos Tour Down Under due to an infection but appeared hopeful about kicking-off his 2023 season at the Australian WorldTour race, when it officially begins on Tuesday.
Thomas revealed his problematic build-up to the race during the pre-race press conference where he sat alongside Chris Froome (Israel-Premier Tech), 2022 Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla ).
Matthews is widely considered the favorite to win this year’s Tour Down Under as Jayco-AlUla look for a successful start to 2023 in their ‘home’ race. Hindley’s form is unknown, Froome has revealed he was hit by COVID-19 for a second time just before Christmas, while Thomas explained the consequences of the infection that had slowed his training in recent weeks.
“Just before Christmas I had a bit of an infection. I thought I was over it but it came back a bit. I’ve been on antibiotics and I’ve missed a few days of training. It sucks when it’s nice and sunny in Australia and you’re satisfied inside,” he said.
“I went for a ride today and felt okay. I won’t be starting tonight (in the evening criterium) but all being well, I’ll be there on Tuesday.”
Despite his setback, Thomas looked on form. He has been in Australia with his family since the start of the New Year and is keen to start the 2023 season on the front foot as he targets the Giro d’Italia in May.
His infection means he is not Ineos Grenadiers’ protected rider at the Tour Down Under but he is convinced the British team have potential winners in their squad.
“I just want to get stuck in and enjoy the racing. It’s nice being back out here. As Stuey [Race director Stuart O’Grady] said, there are some great stages to get stuck into,” Thomas said with gusto.
“With the team we’ve got, I’m super excited to be racing with them. We’ve got three potential winners or riders who can be up there in Ethan [Hayter]Magus [Sheffield] and Plappy [Luke Plapp]. We’re looking forward to that.”
Also in the Ineos Grenadiers line-up are veteran road captain and sprinter Ben Swift and talented young German Kim Heiduk.
Thomas has been able to analyze the new route for the Tour Down Under, training in the Adelaide Hills before his infection returned and studying Tuesday’s 5.5km prologue time trial to the north of the city.
As a renowned time trialist and eight rides at the Tour Down Under during his long career, the Welshman knows how the race usually unfolds, with every second vital in the race for overall success.
“This race has come down to seconds before and so the prologue will be crucial. It mixes the racing up a bit and is a great way to start this race. It’ll be really interesting,” he predicted.
“The course is daily technical, with a few corners. Time trials are always different on road bikes compared to TT bikes. It’ll be tough, It’s the first big five-minute effort of the year and so it’ll hurt,” Thomas predicted.
Asked to make a prediction for the overall classification, Thomas stayed loyal to his Ineos Grenadiers teammates.
“My prediction is Magnus , Ethan, and Plappy,” he said. “But I also think Michael Matthews will be right there actually.”
He jokingly dismissed the chances of Adelaide local Rohan Dennis, his former teammate at Ineos Grenadiers and a former world time trial champion.
“Rohan Dennis? He’s past it, mate…” Thomas said, with his usual deadpan and ironic sense of humour.
“He shouldn’t have changed teams. And you can tell him I said that.”
Thomas turns 37 on May 25, when he hopes to be challenging for overall victory at the Giro d’Italia. He was disappointed with the limited time trials at the 2023 Tour de France and so will target the Corsa Rosa and take on Remco Evenepoel in Italy despite his impressive third place at the 2022 Tour de France.
He has still to decide if he will race beyond 2023 but is still motivated and disciplined about his racing and training.
“I still enjoy it all as much as ever. Having all these young guys on the team helps. They’re super keen and you thrive off their energy,” he said.
“I still love riding my bike and I still love racing and preparing for it all. Whenever you’re up front in races, when you’re competitive, whether you win or not, is a great feeling. I’m all good.”