(AFP) – Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas says he faces a tougher challenge this year defending his crown as there are so many riders capable of competing for the podium spots.
The 33-year-old Welshman — who upset the form book last year to beat his team-mate and four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome — told The Daily Telegraph he had enjoyed the accolades but he was also glad that was all over and he had been able to focus on retaining his crown.
Thomas found himself much in demand from having a selfie with football superstar Lionel Messi to being the main attraction at half-time of Wales’s 9-6 win over Australia in their rugby Test last November.
He appears unconcerned by indifferent form thus far this season — third in last month’s Tour of Romandie the highlight — saying he will be shipshape when the race begins in Brussels on July 6.
“Though whether that (being in perfect shape) will be enough we will see,” said Thomas. “Everyone’s improving. The competition is definitely tougher this year.
“There are a lot of guys who could potentially podium. I just have to stick to the philosophy I’ve always had, which is just to do the best I can do.
“I can’t affect how (Tom) Dumoulin goes, or Yatesy (Adam Yates) or Richie (Porte) or Jumbo-Visma with Steven Kruijswijk or (Primoz) Roglic.”
Thomas, who has just finished two weeks of altitude training, says the attention he received after his victory — he won the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award (SPOTY) — had been overwhelming.
“I’m still a bit bowled over by it to be honest,” he said. “I’m surprised by how well the book has done. Winning SPOTY was …..incredible.
“That was an amazing night. Especially up against Harry Kane with how England did at the World Cup in Russia.
“Although having said that England didn’t really beat anyone did they?
“And Kane only scored a couple of penalties and a deflection…” he added with trademark impish humour.
However, Thomas, who says he is not far off his optimum racing weight of 67 kilogrammes (10st 7lb), knew last November the party circuit was not for him.
“Even though I still had three weeks of doing stuff (appearances), I was itching to get back on the bike,” he said. “That’s when I knew I’d be OK.
“Because I knew I didn’t want to be doing that (partying) anymore.”