Geraint Thomas hooks up with Dan Biggar to discuss Tour De France (2024)

As we set off on a bike ride around Monaco, the Ineos cycling top Geraint Thomas kindly brought along for me is firmly at the bottom of my rucksack. It is one he wore on last month’s Giro d’Italia but I can barely get it over my forearms.

I’m not the biggest rugby player and the size difference surprises me. Geraint, my mate and fellow Welshman, explains how every kilo counts when you’re racing up the mountains, as he will be with his Ineos team when he takes on the Tour de France which starts on Saturday. Fortunately, our route is less taxing than the Alpe d’Huez.

Thomas, winner of three World Championships, two Olympic golds and the 2018 Tour de France, leads me around the city’s Formula 1 circuit, where Lamborghinis and Ferraris are more common than Toyotas and Hyundais. It is a real taste of the high life in the boy from Cardiff’s adopted home.

‘I saw the old actor from the Nespresso advert… George Clooney!’ Geraint tells me. ‘He was in a bar having some food. There are loads of F1 drivers. Carlos Sainz is staying in a hotel just there while he looks for an apartment.

‘I’ve met George Russell a few times. We were going to go out (for a bike ride) but they don’t want the drivers on bikes as one of them crashed earlier this season and did something to his wrist.’

Geraint Thomas, who won the 2018 Tour De France, discusses the difficulties of the race

Thomas told fellow Welshman Dan Biggar about the grazes he has suffered while cycling

Geraint has grazes up his forearm when we meet. Crashes are part and parcel of racing, he tells me, and the worst part is when the wounds stick to the bed sheets at night. That’s one of the reasons he shaves his legs; to minimise the risk of follicular infection.

‘Every rest day I shave. It’s a pain but you just get on with it. When you go up a mountain for an hour, mentally it’s tough. Pain is part of cycling. I’ve done collar bones, wrists, shoulders, pelvis, even my spleen. When you switch off, it hits you. All that tiredness comes out. Your legs feel weak and shaky.’

Cycling up one of Monaco’s steeper streets towards Casino Square, I’m relieved my bike has an electric motor that kicks in on the climbs! We do 20-minute Wattbike sessions in pre-season and I’m folded after four-and-a-half minutes!

‘One of the bigger cyclists burnt 8,500 calories on one stage of the Giro,’ Geraint tells me. ‘He’s 85kg, which is big for a cyclist. We used to have more solid food but now it’s more gels and stuff. It’s low fibre and it’s really bad for your guts. I don’t think I did a proper poo for three weeks. We’re about being as light as possible when you go up the mountains so we don’t have much veg or red meat. It’s all chicken, rice, pasta.’

Luckily, we have a bag of Haribo to keep the sugars up. We pass the apartment where Ineos principal Dave Brailsford stays. Geraint is close with Brailsford and the team’s billionaire owner Jim Ratcliffe, who joins him for bike rides on the French coast. As a Manchester United fan, I’m fascinated to hear what impact he thinks they’ll have at Old Trafford, particularly after deciding to keep Erik ten Hag.

‘I just treat Jim like a normal bloke because I’m sure he gets so much smoke blown up his a***. But he’s mad for it. I’m an Arsenal fan and he messaged me on Christmas Eve to say the United deal’s gone through. I said, “Congrats, I hope you come a strong second behind Arsenal”.

Dave B is just fanatical. He lives and breathes it. Ineos own Nice football club, too, and he was put in to get a new manager. He had this truck he bought a few years ago — a glorified camper van. He took it to Nice’s training ground and was working 6am to 9pm every day. That’s what he’ll be like at United. Football’s not Dave’s main sport so he’ll take a lot of advice and he’s committed to Ten Hag.

‘They’ll do everything in their power and they’ll be successful. Dave’s still around the cycling team but now he has other things going on, we miss his intensity.’

Tadej Pogaco of Slovenia is currently the favourite to win this year's Tour de France

Thomas has backed INEOS' Dave Brailsford to help save Manchester United

According to Thomas, Brailsford will show his support for United manager Erik ten Hag

After chewing Geraint’s ear off about United, we settle down in a beach bar for a beer. It’s closed when we turn up but they make an exception for Geraint. Winning the Tour de France elevated him to A-list status here and we grab a table to talk about his cycling plans. It’s €10 for a bottle of Peroni; a bargain in Monaco, according to my Welsh mate!

‘Wherever you go, people tend to recognise the Yellow Jersey,’ Geraint says. ‘Winning the Tour was life-changing. I remember being asked a question about wearing a helmet and suddenly I got a load of abuse. Whatever you say, suddenly people catch on to it. You get recognised.

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‘We went to a Barcelona game and I got Lionel Messi’s top after. I don’t think he watches the sport but he’s got a Pinarello bike. I met Luis Suarez in the car park, too!’

There are not too many rugby players with that kind of pull. Some of the younger riders have millions of followers on Instagram. This year’s favourite, Tadej Pogacar, has 1.6million and that will go up if he wins his third title this summer. I watched how he pulled away in the Giro and his dominance reminded me of Antoine Dupont on the rugby pitch — just streets ahead of the rest.

‘Jonas Vingegaard had a big crash in April and has been off for a while, so Pog is the favourite,’ Thomas says. ‘Cycling is 90 per cent physical and 10 per cent tactical. You can win without being the strongest but in a Grand Tour over three weeks, generally the strongest guy wins. In football or rugby, how you set up can affect the game. But if Pog’s on form it’s bloody hard, you’ve only got a slim chance of winning.’

Geraint’s words about ‘needing legs’ resonate with me. Guys at 25 will always have more ‘legs’ than a guy who is 35. We are both coming towards the end of our careers and you take on a different role. Having finished third in the Giro, he seems content to slip back into the role of a domestique.

Thomas states the younger cyclists nowadays are 'much more intense' than previously

‘For us, this year’s tour is a bit weird because in the team we’ve got a Spanish guy, Carlos Rodriguez, a Colombian, Egan Bernal, who won in 2019, Tom Pidco*ck and myself. All of us could potentially lead the team. We will need to speak about what’s going to happen tactically.

‘When you have three guys on a par, it’s hard to help all three when there’s only eight of you on the start line. I came up through the ranks so I know what people need. I don’t mind it. I can take a bit of the pressure off. If you still affect the team positively, that’s where you get your success.

‘The young guys now are so much more intense — weighing their food and measuring their sleep. I get it. I do it when I have to, but every day is so intense. Young guys moving away from home to live in Andorra by themselves, not having a life. Back then it was much more fun. Some of the s*** we got up to in our team house when we were 23. We were focused but we enjoyed it.

‘Some guys now come straight into it and expect to be the leader. There’s a different mentality in this generation.’

We laugh that we sound like miserable old men but the reality is we are old for professional athletes. At some point, it’s nice to pass on your experience and let somebody else flourish. I’ve enjoyed the latter stages of my career way more than the early stages. When you’re younger, you’re trying to get on the ladder. Once you’re established there’s pressure off so you enjoy it.

As Thomas explains, when you switch off, the tiredness and effects of cycling hit you

Jonas Vingegaard has needed time to to recover after suffering a significant crash in April

Now 38, Geraint has one more year left on his contract and is preparing for a farewell circuit.

‘I’ll ride the Tour this year then probably once more next year. I’d love to go back to the Giro, it’s a purist’s race. The Tour is just like a circus. The last stage is here this year, rather than Paris for the first time, due to the Olympics. Through the tunnel, past the casino, then into Nice.

‘These are like bonus rounds for me. I didn’t think I’d still be racing but if the contract’s there, then why not? I still love it and I’ll miss it, but it will be 19 years of professional racing next year. It’s a long time, isn’t it?’

We finish our ride in Monaco harbour, surrounded by super-yachts belonging to the rich and famous. Ratcliffe owns two, Geraint tells me, but neither is moored up. ‘Maybe we’ll meet on one of them next time,’ he says before speeding off to tackle his next adventure.

Biggar and Thomas were speaking to NIK SIMON

Geraint Thomas hooks up with Dan Biggar to discuss Tour De France (2024)


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