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HomeSportCocktails can wait as Thomas ready 'to commit' in Vuelta

Cocktails can wait as Thomas ready ‘to commit’ in Vuelta


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Geraint Thomas won the Tour de France in 2018Britain’s Geraint Thomas promised he is ready “to commit” at the “very end” of his career in one of the toughest Vuelta a Espana races for years.The 37-year-old Ineos Grenadiers rider narrowly missed out on victory in May’s Giro d’Italia to Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma.”It’s easy to commit at very end of my career,” said Thomas. “Might as well see what I can do.”The Vuelta gets under way on Saturday with a team time trial in Barcelona.Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France winner, added that time away from his family was hard but that no decision had yet been made on his future and a contract for 2024.”Hopefully soon [something will be decided],” said Thomas before the race. “There’s been time away from home; a lot of training camps these days at altitude has kind of replaced being at home. It’s hard to be far away from family; I have a young son and wife.”That’s tough, but it’s one of those things. Plenty of time in my next life to chill and drink cocktails and look after [son] Max.”Belgian star Remco Evenepoel took the overall winner’s red jersey last yearA line-up like no other for ‘El Clasico’This Vuelta – dubbed by some in cycling as ‘El Clasico’external-link because it begins in Barcelona and ends in Madrid three weeks later – has a line-up of talent which mirrors the ‘galacticos’ of Spanish football’s two most celebrated clubs.The three-week race runs for 3,154km across 21 stages, through 396 cities, towns or villages, and through mountainous territories, such as the Pyrenees, taking in the famously taxing Col du Tourmalet climb.Roglic returns for a race he has won three times, along with this year’s Tour de France winning team-mate Jonas Vingegaard of Denmark and Belgian sensation Remco Evenepoel of Soudal-Quick Step.Roglic beat Thomas in the Giro by just 14 seconds following a penultimate stage time trial in which his bike chain fell off. That did not prevent the 33-year-old still overhauling a 26-second lead held by Thomas, who had the held the pink jersey for most of the race.The only rider considered among the world’s best when it comes to the sport’s Grand Tours who is missing from an unusually strong line-up for the Vuelta is Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates. Spain’s Juan Ayuso and Portugal’s Joao Almeida will instead challenge for overall victory for the UAE team.Pogacar looked exhausted at this month’s UCI Cycling World Championships following a season in which he was sensational in spring, beating Vingegaard hands down at the eight-day Paris-Nice race.But the 24-year-old was comprehensively beaten by an overall margin of seven minutes 29 seconds by Vingegaard when it came to July’s Tour, as the Dane stepped up to another level in performance on the climbs and the time trials.The 26-year-old Vingegaard is looking to add another Grand Tour win to his memorable season, in which he has finally wrestled the ‘world’s best’ tag from Pogacar – the pair both now having two Tour titles on each of their palmares.If his form remains the same then Vingegaard should be favourite for the Vuelta, but the unknown quantity is Evenepoel.The 23-year-old was dominating the Giro until he was forced to withdraw because of a Covid – even triumphing in the mid-race time trial despite suffering with symptoms.Evenepoel went on to become time trial world champion in Glasgow at the Worlds, and comes into this race as many people’s favourite, even if some momentarily forgot he won the Vuelta last year.”He’s obviously a super strong rider,” said Thomas. “The favourite tag for the race falls on to [Quick Step] a bit as well as Jumbo.”He’s a phenomenal talent, but more suited to one-day big efforts… I’m not saying he’s bad at Grand Tours – in fact, he won here last year didn’t he.”He’s going to be super strong – I saw in the TT at the Worlds recently. There’s numerous guys who can win – he’s certainly one of the strongest.”All of which leaves Thomas and fellow Ineos team-mate Egan Bernal considered to be fighting for podium places at best.Bernal is still recovering from a life-threatening training crash in 2022 and found the Tour de France tough going this year within the context of his previous high standards.The 26-year-old will be looking to rediscover the form which took him to Tour glory in 2019 and Giro victory in 2021.And could Ineos themselves be looking to rediscover their winning form by making changes?Three top riders have left the team recently, including Britain’s 2020 Giro winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, fuelling speculation changes could be being made to sign a high-profile rider – many believe it could be Evenepoel.This is, however, far from an obvious choice, given his own Belgian Quick Step team are making changes which appear to support Evenepoel for the long term.Evenepoel’s performance in Spain could determine a future in which the former footballer will be in even higher demand than ever before.Thousands turned out in Copenhagen to welcome Jonas Vingegaard after his Tour de France win this yearIs Cavendish involved?One element in shorter supply than usual in the race is the amount of stages for the sprinters. There are flatter roads during the race, but not enough to attract the world’s best fast men – including 38-year-old Mark Cavendish.After the heartbreak of leaving his final Tour de France injured and not managing to beat the Tour record of 34 stage victories he shares with Belgian legend Eddy Merckx, Cavendish is said to still be “thinking about” one last tilt at the Tour in 2024 following an offer from his Astana Qazaqstan team.But there are some British riders who could make an impression.Hugh Carthy of EF Education-EasyPost has not yet returned to the form which took him to third in this race in 2020, where he won brilliantly on the Angliru climb – an ascent this race revisits on stage 17.Other prospects include Lewis Askey, 22, of the French Groupama-FDJ team, who could win on some of the more undulating, hilly stages alongside team-mate Samuel Watson, 21.And there’s Sean Flynn of the Dutch DSM-Firmenich team, who also have 20-year-old Britons Oscar Onley and Max Poole in their squad for what is the 78th running of this race.

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