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Is Geraint Thomas Britain's best ever rider?

Felix Lowe
4 Dec 2018

After Geraint Thomas’s Tour victory, and his hatful of Olympic, Commonwealth and Classics triumphs, Felix Lowe asks the obvious question

This article was first published in Issue 79 of Cyclist magazine

Rummaging through the attic the other day, I came across an old pack of Pro Cycling Top Trumps from 2014. Remember that landmark year? The only time in the past seven years that a Brit hasn’t razzed up the Champs-Élysées in yellow (my mate Steve on his stag do aside).

The game cards allocate riders a score out of 100 across five criteria – time-trialling, breakaways, climbing, sprinting and the GC. Sifting through the pack I came across the card for Geraint Thomas.

If I were actually playing the game, G’s card wouldn’t be doing my hand any favours, with a relatively measly average of just 60 points, but that’s hardly surprising.

Back when these cards were printed the Welshman was merely a workhorse for the Froome train, and well down the Team Sky pecking order behind the likes of Richie Porte and even Mikel Nieve. He really was a Plan G.

Fast forward two years and this very magazine ran a social media poll for Britain’s best cyclist. Thomas didn’t even make the top 10.

Bradley Wiggins (Britain’s first Tour winner) topped the podium ahead of Mark Cavendish (Britain’s first green jersey winner) and Froome (Britain’s first double Tour winner).

Fast forward another two years, though, and Thomas has emerged top of the Brit Pack after ending Froome’s winning streak and becoming the first Welsh Tour winner.

Released in April, the latest deck of the game has added a sixth criteria: Classics ability. Given Thomas’ versatility – from cobbles to climbs, TTs to the track – it’s no shock that his Top Trumps average is now superior to Froome’s, even if the latter beats him in TT, climbing and GC head-to-heads.

Chuck Wiggins and Cavendish into the mix and the result’s the same: Thomas comes out on top despite fewer TT and sprint scalps. Should we judge all-round ability on these road-heavy criteria alone? Of course not.

So, I came up with my own imaginary version of the game that considers things like Olympic legacy, track record, history-making, club rideability, domestique chic and charisma. In this game G’s card tops almost everyone else’s, perhaps with the exception of the Cannibal, Eddy Merckx (who in the real Top Trumps deck gets a whopping average of 96 points).

Needing more help than a card game and my imagination, my quest to gauge Britain’s finest took me to that favoured metronome of public opinion: Twitter.

With that veritable can of worms opened I was soon more lampooned than Chevy Chase on Christmas Vacation. From a total of 992 votes cast, Thomas ranked only third, just ahead of Froome in fourth. Coming out on top was still Wiggins, with a sizable chunk of the votes (38%), closely followed by Cavendish (34%).

But the biggest take from this poll was my apparent errant choice of riders. The penny dropped shortly after I replied, “In Manchester?” to someone’s question, “Where’s Chris Boardman?”

Scots pioneer Graeme Obree too was put forward for his Hour record exploits and innovation, while Boardman was praised for paving the way for today’s stars. Robert Millar merited inclusion for his Grand Tour podiums; Tom Simpson for the versatility of his palmarès; Chris Hoy for his dominant track exploits. And sneaking in there too was Roger Hammond.

[Note: this poll took place before Simon Yates added his own name to the list of overachieving Brits with his Vuelta win]. 

Alas, it’s impossible to truly compare accurately. It’s not so much apples and oranges as a whole orchard of different fruit. In any case, according to my Pro Cycling Trumps the British rider with the best average score isn’t any of the above, but Lizzie Deignan who, in her rainbow-striped heyday, averaged 88 points.

But should Thomas add a Monument and perhaps the Giro to a haul that already includes two Olympic golds, success in one-week races, Classics and the Tour – all while being a nice bloke and rather selfless – then his credentials to lay claim to being the best of British would be strong.

But then again, maybe he’d also need to have a crack at the Hour record too?

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