Smithfield Nocturne: Thomas the Engine

For British cycling fans there’s two ways of seeing the big names who’ve made it to the top flight of the sport. One is to watch them disappearing up the road in a local race when they’re still not old enough to legally buy the Champagne. The other is to look out for rare events where they come to ride such as the Smithfield Nocturne or the National Championships.

On Saturday night Geraint Thomas really amazed me with his performance. Sometimes riders can turn up to criteriums just to wave to the crowd and pick up their appearance fee. While Geraint waved to the crowd he also did a lot to earn his money by demonstrating just how much a rider gains from crossing the channel and competing against the best in the sport on a daily basis.

Smithfield Nocturne Elite Crit 2008

Striking is how fast the race was. Some estimates clock the average pace at 50km/h and more. In a thread on veloriders you get a picture of how fast the race was:

“To give some perspective; the support 2/3/4 race was run off at ~2 minutes per lap. In the elite race, the first lap (from a standing start and people still clipping in / manoevering in a tight bunch) was a 1:30, it averaged 1:22 for the first 10 laps with the fastest lap done in 1:15…”

What was impressive was that Geraint never looked like he was straining or working too hard. Maybe he’s got a good poker face or maybe he really has stepped up a level in ability from completing two out of the three Grand Tours in the last two years as well as bagging World Championships on the track.

His composure on the bike was a real joy. There was that graceful stillness on the bike that tells you that you are watching a class rider – back flat, elbows softly bent, head still and the bike swaying less than a shy girl in a slow dance. At one point I swear he went into one of the right-angle corners flat out, looked under his arm to check where the rest of the break was and then took a quick swig from his bottle.

The contrast between his composure and the others in the break (Rob Hayles, Dean Downing, Graham Briggs and Simon Richardson) was clear from the moment it looked like they would stay away to the finish. While the others looked like men fighting to keep the bike travelling forward and their bodies from rebellion, Geraint was smooth and controlled in his attacks

It was hard to doubt that Thomas could win it, despite the assertion from the commentary position that he didn’t have the best of sprints. So when he came out of the last corner ahead it was fairly nailed on that he’d put the hammer down and hold off the challenges. As his manager Claudio Corti has said, “There’s a lot you can do with a man who can ride at 60km/h for four minutes”.

Impressed? You bet I was. I can’t even sprint that fast on the flat.

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