I find it almost impossible to write about pro cyclist and all round man-of-the-people Geraint Thomas without using the phrase ‘genial Welshman’. He’s genial, no doubt, but if he was English I doubt I’d feel compelled to call him ‘genial Englishman’.
Maybe it’s because I’m English, and I’m being accidentally patronising in a way that I don’t really understand?
‘Genial Welshman’ Geraint Thomas spent 2015 as the world’s busiest man. He also very nearly finished in the top ten of the Tour de France, being almost scuppered by a brief encounter with a telegraph pole, and then actually scuppered by one very bad day in the mountains which he eloquently summed up by saying: ‘some days you’re the hammer, and some day’s you’re the nail. And today, I was one of those crappy little Ikea nails…’
I think all of us, whether we’ve narrowly missed out on a Tour de France top ten or not, can relate to that.
And now in 2016, ‘G’ seems to be in the process of turning himself into a bona-fide-mountain-climbing-stage-race-winning-Grand-Tour-contender. First he successfully defended his title at the Tour of the Algarve, and now he’s only gone and won his first stage race at World Tour level, at Paris-Nice. The ‘race to the sun’ is one of those races with history and gravitas and a roll of winners that looks like a who’s who of pro cycling greats:
The likes of Jacques Anquetil, Tom Simpson, Eddy Merckx, Sean Kelly (7 times!), Miguel Indurain, Alberto Contador, and Bradley Wiggins are Paris-Nice winners: a good handful of the greatest cyclists ever to have flung a leg over a bike and pointed it in the direction of a Cote d’Azur beach.
Its good company but surely none are as genial, and certainly none are as Welsh. Except perhaps Jacques Anquetil, who wasn’t Welsh, but whose off-bike behaviour could be described as “genial” (but always with the suggestive quotation marks firmly in place!)
The real beauty of Geraint Thomas, though, is that he keeps it simple:
After finishing close enough to Alberto Contador on the final stage of Paris-Nice to take the overall win, the Spaniard’s Tinkoff team began bleating about the influence of the various support motorbikes that follow the race. Sports Director Sean Yates suggested that without the slipstream of the bikes, Thomas and his group of fellow chasers would never have closed down Contador sufficiently to cut his time losses and win the race. They were at pains to suggest, of course (in what sounded suspiciously like ‘sour grapes’), that this was in no way ‘sour grapes’.
Thomas just shrugged: ‘They can say what they want. We won’
It’s a gloriously un-media-trained good honest answer to a question, in the grand tradition of Bradley Wiggins. There’s a problem with all this success, though. What do we here in the UK do when one of our sporting heroes takes on the mantle of ‘winner?’
We knock ‘em down, of course.
There comes a point where the disgrace that is the tabloid press here in the UK decide it’s payback time. They create some weird logic which dictates that they were responsible for placing this sports-person on the top of that rather pretty Rapha branded pedestal, and they will be unceremoniously knocked from it at a time of their choosing. As is their right. Woe betide if said sports-person should be so human to have anything resembling a failed relationship, or a poor business decision, or a selfie outside a nightclub lurking in their past.
We just can’t handle winners in this country. I don’t think there’s any deeper reason other than they bore us, and we don’t respect winning and success in the way they do in some other countries.
We prefer plucky losers.
With a bit of luck ‘G’ will remain unaffected by whatever success lies ahead, and buffered by cycling’s continued status just on the edge of mainstream and the fact there will always be a conveyor belt of footballers who will misbehave, disappoint, and generally incur the wrath of the red-top media. In addition, surely his unprecedented levels of geniality will allow him to float above the tabloid pool, untouchable, like a modern day Mother Teresa, or her sporting equivalent Jess Ennis.
As is the nature of cycling he’ll also no doubt have a good few more of those ‘Ikea nail’ days. With a bit of luck, the odd humbling defeat from time to time should be enough to keep everyone happy.