Chris Froome believes his Sky team-mate has the potential to be “right up there”. Ed Clancy went even further on Thursday, arguing that his former track buddy had to be regarded as “one of the absolute favourites” for the race. Former winner Stephen Roche, however, told Telegraph Sport earlier this week that he could not see the Welshman threatening the podium over the next three weeks and that to expect more was “unfair on him”.
It seems no one can agree on how well Geraint Thomas might do at this year’s Giro d’Italia, which kicks off on Friday in Alghero, Sardinia. That is perhaps understandable given that Thomas himself has little idea.
Despite the fact that he will be riding in his 11th grand tour, and despite his reputation as one of the most experienced and reliable super-domestiques in the world, the Welshman will be venturing into unknown territory when the 100th edition of the historic corsa rosa begins.
This will be his first bona fide attempt at leading a team at a grand tour. Or at least co-leading. Sky have opted to back both Thomas and the Spaniard Mikel Landa, leaving sprinter Elia Viviani at home and instead picking seven riders dedicated to helping their twin leaders on the climbs.
The tactic is a fascinating one given that Thomas and Landa have such contrasting styles. And it remains to be seen how that dynamic will play out.
One thing is certain, though, Thomas has never had a better chance to find out if he has what it takes in a three-week stage race.
There was talk of the 30-year-old enjoying protected status at last year’s Tour; the chance to see how high up on general classification he could finish. In the end he “pushed too hard” in the build-up and ended up 15th for a second year running, burying himself as usual in support of Froome.
Thomas insists he learnt from that experience. “Definitely,” he told Telegraph Sport. “I was a bit up and down last summer, weight-wise and in terms of just pushing it a bit too much. I’ve been much more consistent this year.”
Eschewing his usual classics-heavy spring, Thomas concentrated instead on stage racing and altitude camps, winning the recent Tour of the Alps to suggest his form is good.
Whether it will be good enough to challenge the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) or even his fellow Briton Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) – who finished fourth at last year’s Tour, remember – remains to be seen.
Thomas confesses he has no idea either. “I think basically my plan will be to try not to get too keen too soon,” he said. “Because you can feel good the first week or so and then the last week is massive and you can lose 20 minutes on one stage there.”
He says he will look to ride “conservatively” in a first week that features three stages in Sardinia before the race moves to Sicily and an ascent of Mount Etna next Tuesday. Thereafter he will look to gain time in the two big time trials on stages 10 and 21, and just try to hang tough in the big mountains in the final week.
“It’s exciting,” he concluded. “The Giro is not like the Tour, where you kind of know what’s going to happen each day, in terms of the race being more controlled. At the Giro it’s a lot more up in the air. So it’s about that balance between being aggressive, and on the other hand not getting too carried away.
“Like I say, I’ll probably ride quite conservatively. The onus is on Quintana and Nibali. They’ve won this race before and finished on lots of grand tour podiums so they’re the favourites while I’m… I don’t know what I am.
“It’s the first grand tour I’ve gone to trying to lead. I’m not putting any extra pressure on myself, I just want to go out there and try to enjoy it and do the best I can. What will be will be I guess.”