In the Tour de France 2022, Geraint Thomas displayed strong climbing performances throughout the three weeks, finishing third in the general classification behind Pogačar and Vingegaard. Standing on the podium in Paris was nothing new for the Welshman, who won Le Tour in 2018 and came second in 2019. But how does his 2022 Tour performance stack up against those better results on his palmares? In this article, we will compare Thomas’ 2018 and 2022 Tour de France performances as well as his career best w/kg efforts.
2018 Tour de France
The climbing level of the 2018 Tour was quite low compared to the current post-COVID era. Thomas won back to back mountain stages on La Rosiere and Alpe d’Huez, pushing below an estimated 5.80 ᵉw/kg on medium length mountains, which is even below the trendline of a Grand Tour Top 10 contender in 2022. Nowadays it is practically impossible to win a Grand Tour stage from a GC group with such performances unless there is a significant tactical stalemate followed by a sprint at the end. Thomas did his best pure w/kg performances on Col de Portet and Cote de la Croix Neuve – Mende but he was not the fastest on both climbs. On Portet he lost to Nairo Quintana 47 seconds and Dan Martin 19 seconds but on the short Cote de la Croix Neuve – Mende he lost only five seconds to Primož Roglič, who subsequently became the best rider in the world on such climbs.
Given his larger size compared to diminutive climbers like Quintana, Thomas has never been able to push the best w/kg up climbs if they are paced hard from the base or are very steep. The Alpe d’Huez and La Rosiere mountain top finishes were not paced full gas, with riders in the GC group attacking multiple times and then the group slowing once they were caught. Thomas was able to win the stages with his patented last km surge, which has continued to be a weapon for him to gain time or limit losses in the current era (see Volta a Catalunya 2021 Stages 3 and 4).
2022 Tour de France
Despite never being close to Pogačar or Vingegaard on any mountain stage or in the general classification, Thomas was in his best shape ever at the Tour de France 2022. Even without winning a stage he did great performances on Alpe d’Huez, Col du Granon (high altitude) and La Super Planche des Belles Filles, often in very hot conditions. Thomas lost almost three minutes on Hautacam to Vingegaard, despite doing 5.83 ᵉw/kg for almost 40 minutes (enough to win on Alpe d’Huez in 2018). Before Hautacam he did Spandelles at a hard pace (6.07 ᵉw/kg for 30:28min) with his sole attack of the race and later caught Vingegaard and Pogačar in the descent as the Dane was waiting for his teammates.
2018 vs 2022 Tour de France
When both races are compared, the 2022 Tour consistently has higher level final climb performances, with the racing in 2022 also typically being much more difficult prior to the final climb (Galibier and Spandelles were both launched by Pogacar). On the w/kg x time graph both Alpe d’Huez 2022 and Mende 2018 are practically similar, however in general Thomas’ climbing over 15 minutes duration was superior in 2022 compared to 2018.
Fortunately for the sake of comparison, both Alpe d’Huez and Cote de la Croix Neuve – Mende climbs were included in each of the 2018 and 2022 Le Tour editions.
In 2022 nine riders were faster on Alpe d’Huez than Thomas’ time in 2018, when he outsprinted Dumoulin, Froome and Bardet atop the legendary climb. Thomas himself beat his 2018 Alpe d’Huez time by 2 minutes and 3 seconds whilst Bardet also massively improved his time by 1:46min. It is unsurprising that fast times were set in 2022, with Jumbo-Visma pacing a large portion of the climb very hard with Benoot, Kuss and Kruijswijk.
In defense of the 2018 Alpe d’Huez performace, Thomas definitely did not set his fastest possible time (winning races and gaining time is the aim of GC contenders, not setting fast climbing times with other GC contenders in the draft). He saved a lot of energy drafting whilst others attacked and won the stage with a powerful 15-second sprint. The same thing can be said about the La Rosiere stage, where Thomas won thanks to an acceleration in the final kilometre.
Meanwhile in the 2022 edition, there was such a performance disparity both above and below Thomas that he just rode every climb like a time trial without responding to the attacks of Pogacar and Vingegaard and with other podium contenders dropping very early on each climb. By riding to his own threshold level Thomas most likely did the best possible w/kg performance he was capable of in 2022 on the Alpe.
Cote de la Croix Neuve – Mende
On the Cote de la Croix Neuve – Mende climb Thomas in 2022 lost 23 seconds to his 2018 time. Considering the steep gradient of the climb, in both cases he definitely did go full gas. However in 2022 the conditions were less conducive to a high w/kg performance, with an average stage temperature of 35 centigrade compared to 28 centigrade in 2018. The stage was also significantly more difficult before the final climb in 2022, with riders in the peloton spending 13,1 kj/kg/h for 4:41h in 2022 vs 11,5 for 4:47h in 2018.
With modern training and methods, Thomas shows that it is possible to be in career best shape even at age 36. Perhaps relative to his era 2018 Thomas was stronger than 2022 Thomas, but it is clear that right now the 2022 Tour version of Thomas is improved. There is the reality of the Sky Train 2018 mountain stages perhaps hiding the true w/kg that 2018 Thomas was capable of, but we consider this offset by how difficult the 2022 mountain stages were, where he still achieved higher w/kg than in 2018. These stages in 2022 were raced extremely aggressively, often in extreme temperatures, with committed attacks on penultimate climbs on the Col du Granon, Hautacam and Peyragudes stages. The Giro d’Italia typically requires a lower w/kg threshold to win compared to Le Tour or La Vuelta, so with the 70+ km of time trial in the Giro 2023 parcours, Thomas should start as a lock for the podium and perhaps even the victory depending on Remco Evenepoel’s attendance.