Geraint Thomas says he thought the chance to defend his Tour de France title was over after a bad crash at the Tour of Switzerland, but admits he was “lucky” to avoid serious injury.
The 33-year-old Welshman was taken to hospital after crashing out during the fourth stage in Switzerland on Tuesday but still expects to start the Tour de France, which begins on 6 July.
The Team Ineos rider spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live’s Bespoke podcast and explained what happened and what it is like to be involved in a big crash.
How are you feeling and what happened?
Thomas: “I’m OK, I’m a bit tired, the crash was yesterday and I definitely feel like I’ve fallen off my bike. You don’t feel very well but I’m lucky to come away with just a few scratches above my eye.
“The whole torso and head hurts. Shoulder, back, just everything after crashing at 50mph. It’s a bit frustrating and if I had not cut my eye I would’ve been able to continue but the doctor, when he saw I had hit my head and with the protocol, he said you should stop.
“The road was a lane-and-a-half wide, suddenly the bike path started and I was following [team-mate] Luke [Rowe] and we ended up on the bike path.
“There was a lip that came with no signs, an Astana rider just hit that lip between the bike path and the road, he fell straight in front of me, I hit him and just went over my bars and landed with most of the impact on my shoulder, my face and head.”
Did you think the Tour de France had gone?
Thomas: “Yeah. Dave B [Brailsford] has been talking about risk-limiting racing and when I was sat on the floor I was bit like ‘oh, jeez’.
“But I felt OK, you know instantly if you have done any proper damage. When I could feel the blood dripping from the face I could see that the doctor would stop me. He asked me all the usual questions, I knew what day it was and what race I was in and it’s just one of those things.
“But it does make sense [to be out of the race] as he is probably the first person I would’ve had a go at had he let me start and I ended up crashing.
“I miss the next four days of big GC days [at the Tour of Switzerland] and maybe that week. I will just have to go out and train hard and get going and try to get a big week or four or five days and then go to the Tour.”
What’s it like being in a crash?
Thomas: “When you are in it you just think ‘oh no’, when you’re in the peloton behind you see the carbon of the bike frames and squealing of brakes and the metal and the impact on the road, it’s a horrible sound.
“You have to make a split-second decision. This Astana guy, there was a drop off on the left and you think you could avoid him but go down there so you hit the guy and the floor.
“The crashes when you have time to think where you’re going to land are the worst ones. When you just crash you have no time to think, it’s part of the sport, but the worst bit by far. You don’t want one part of you to take the full impact, it’s just more instinct and just what happens.”
Thomas’ incident was the second big crash from a Team Ineos rider this month after Chris Froome, travelling at 54km/h, hit a wall during a practice ride before stage four of the Criterium du Dauphine in Roanne, France.
Froome, 34, lost consciousness after the crash and also sustained a fractured right femur, a broken hip, a fractured elbow and fractured ribs.
He is likely to spend “at least six months” away from cycling, according to the surgeon who operated on him.
Thomas: “If you lose your hands off the bars you have that wobble and know you are going down. That’s bad enough but going at the speed Froomey was going at, to see a brick wall in front of you is just horrific.”
How does your crash affect your Tour de France preparations?
Thomas: “I know I need to do a bit more work, I was in a good shape but it’s just a shame I don’t get to finish the race.
“It was a preparation race for the Tour and I was hoping to win it. I just need to knuckle down, have a week of good training and that should be enough.
“I had hardly ever not finished a race before this year so this has been a rollercoaster of a year. I would rather race, that’s what you train for and I love racing my bike.
“I could’ve quite easily fractured something in my hand or shoulder. I landed on the collarbone that I broke in the tour two years ago so the surgeon must’ve done a good job.
“All the screws and plates are still in there and that’s all fine. So it could’ve been a lot worse and I could be sitting here knowing I would not start the tour.”