Sara Elen Thomas: Life with an Olympic Champion

Sara Elen Thomas: Life with an Olympic Champion

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Interview: Sara Elen Thomas

Written by Leigh Marshall from fillesavelo

Sara Elen Thomas is the girlfriend of Geraint Thomas, Olympic Gold Medallist on the track & Team Sky rider.  And she very kindly gave up some of her time to chat to me.

Brief intro about self

I live in Cardiff with my mum Beth, dad Eif, and my older brother Rhys.  Ger and my family get on really well, my brother has nicknamed him “King Dick” because apparently my dad and brother don’t get much of a look in when Geraint’s home!  I went to a Welsh Speaking school and so I’m fluent in Welsh, and trying to teach Geraint a few Welsh words!  I’ve always been sporty, although I have to admit I didn’t have a clue about cycling before Ger came along!  I play a lot of netball, and represented Welsh schools in athletics but since leaving school I lost interest in athletics.  I also did triathlon in the same place that Geraint started cycling.  I’m a girly girl, I love clothes, and I definitely think Ger’s fashion sense has got a lot better since knowing me!  I have hidden a few of his clothes in the past, but to be honest it needed to be done.

You are currently studying at Liverpool University, what are you studying?  And how do you enjoy Uni life?

I’m studying physiology, so all about the human body.  I wouldn’t say that I’m the typical student, I share a house in Liverpool with three other girls, but as Geraint’s house is only 35 mins away, I live with Geraint when he’s home and drive in.  Geraint’s away so often that when he’s home you’ve got to make the most of it!  I enjoy Liverpool, but I’m definitely a home bird! I try to go home as much as I can, especially when Geraint’s away.

How & where did you and Geraint meet?

I met Geraint through a mutual friend in Cardiff.  My friend and Geraint’s friend had a bit of a thing going on, so they dragged both Geraint and me along for a night out.  Then Geraint and me ended up bumping into each other two weeks later, two years on, our friends aren’t speaking and Geraint and me are still together!

Was it love at first sight or more of a slow burner?

Well the first two times I met Geraint he’d had a few so wouldn’t exactly say it was love at first site!!  I did like him though, and the more I got to know him the more I did, so I’d say it was somewhere in between!

Do you partake in a spot of pedalling yourself? Or do you prefer to leave that to Geraint while you concentrate on another sport?

No!  I didn’t have a clue about cycling before meeting Geraint, I’m getting a bit more clued up now though!  Well, I know what the peloton is…

Geraint rides with Team Sky, how does that impact on your lives together? [Media obligations, time away - that sort of thing]

Geraint’s Sky commitments impact massively on our lives.  Obviously he’s away racing a lot, so we have plan our lives around that.  The longest he’s been away was a month last year for the Tour de France, and it can be really difficult being away for so long.  But when he’s racing I can watch him on telly, and I feel a bit more involved so it tends to go quite fast.  The hardest thing for me is when he gets called to do things last minute, especially in the off season.  This year Geraint was taking me to Dublin as a surprise for my birthday, and a week before we were due to go Geraint got told he had to go to London for a media appearance, as you can imagine that didn’t go down to well with me! Things get changed last minute, so we can never really make definite plans, and plans with girlfriends always have to take a back seat, so I have to be quite flexible. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to change my flights this year!!

Do you have any survival strategies for getting through the Season and/or a Grand Tour when Geraint is away?

The only survival strategy I have is having my own life!  If I didn’t have my own things going on, and my life revolved around Geraint it wouldn’t work.  I think it’s important for Geraint too that I have my own life, things would get pretty boring otherwise!  I’m really lucky that I’ve got such a brilliant group of friends at home, so when Ger’s away it gives me the chance to spend some time with the girls.  Geraint has resorted to turning his phone off when I’m out with them, apparently we are quite the drunk texters and callers!

I hear Geraint bought you a tandem for your birthday?  Have you both gone all tandemtastic? [myself & hubby have had a tandem experience ourselves during the Ride of the Falling Rain & even though we had only 1hr practice the day before, it was fantastic fun]

Haha, yes the tandem! We’ve been out on it once so far, and it was a really good laugh!  It was when we had all the snow, and somehow we ended up on a golf course.  Geraint took the whole thing far too seriously, and started complaining that the pedals weren’t in the right position, so when I told him to lighten up he actually said to me, “Sa, I do this for a living you know?!”  Luckily he was close enough for me to hit him.

Do you see yourselves in the off season next year, maybe setting off on a little tandem touring adventure – just the two of you, exploring on two wheels…..?

Can’t see that happening anytime soon, I’ve had enough cycling by the end of the season! Think we’d have a few arguments as well!  We went to Egypt earlier this year, and it was a disaster.  I collapsed two days into the holiday, in the middle of the desert, and Geraint spent the rest of the holiday snorkelling by himself, having tables for one and ringing the team doctor!  I started feeling better so Geraint thought it would be a good idea to book us in for an hour of water sports, so after being pulled around by a speedboat I was back in bed, and didn’t get out for the rest of the holiday.  Still haven’t let him live that down!  It was the time of the ash cloud as well so we were stuck there for an extra week, so they knew him well in the pharmacy by the end of the holiday!  They did ask him if he wanted Viagra though!  When he saw the state that I was in, I think that was the last thing he needed!

How do feel about or what are your thoughts on the term WAG?

I don’t really have any feelings on it to be honest.  I’ve always worked hard, and I like to be successful in my own right.  There’s a stereotype that comes with the term WAG, and that will never be me, and I definitely don’t consider myself to be one.

Have you ever had any run ins with “fangirls” or indeed “fanboys” in some cases?

No not really, it’s mostly middle aged men that get excited seeing him!  There’s been a few girls who are really flirty, and some who’ve send emails but that’s about it.  You can’t let it bother you, Geraint and me have a solid relationship so I just let it go over my head.  The cutest thing is when little children go up to him and ask for an autograph or picture, and you see how excited they are! That’s the time when it really hits me how much Geraint has achieved.  It does get a bit weird sometimes when you see people getting nervous before speaking to him, because to me he’s just Ger.

Are you friends with any of the other wives/girlfriends of the other team members?

Yeah, I’d say I was closest to Nicky (Steve Cumming’s wife) and Lizi (Ben Swift’s girlfriend).  We went to Nicky and Steve’s wedding in October, and everyone had such a brilliant day, the free bar saw us all off I think!

And if so, does it form a sort of support group, where you all understand & experience similar problems, so can bounce off each other?

Nicky’s been a massive help to me.  Nicky and Steve live in Italy, where Geraint lives in the summer, so when I’m out in Italy it’s always nice having them around.  There’s no way I’d have been able to get to Paris for the end of the Tour this year without Nicky, she helped me arrange it all and looked after me! Lizi and me are the same age as well, so we’ve got thing’s in common.  It’s definitely helps having people around who go through the same things as you, and they understand how hard it can be having to deal with all the time apart so it’s good having them around to talk to.

I know that many of the wives & girlfriends of some of the riders of other teams all go out riding together – some of them only just starting to ride for the first time.  So that they can appreciate many of the issues & also so that they can go out riding with their partners in the off season.  What are your thoughts on that?

I’m sure it would be a good laugh, but I can’t see us donning the lycra anytime soon!  We all live in different places, so it’s not very often that we’re all around.  I think we’d be more likely to go for a coffee and a chat, and leave the cycling to the boys!

Are you a wine, beer or cocktail kinda gal? (or all three) & what would be your perfect tipple on a Saturday night?

Definitely a cocktail girl, and partial to a G&T! I’m trying to get into wine though, it looks a bit more sophisticated but mainly it’s because wine’s the only drink left at the end of the night!

How did you feel when Geraint won the British Nat Champs RR?  Were you there watching & were there any suitably excited pap pictures taken of you by fans? [I was following on twitter & I was still jumping up & down with excitement]

I was there watching, and the last two laps I was a nervous wreck!  I was there with Lizi, and Rob Partridge’s girlfriend Amy, and they had to tell me what was going on because by the end I couldn’t watch.  I remember seeing Ger and Pete coming around the corner into the home straight and watching them sprint.  When Ger won, for some reason I just dropped my bag and ran to the finish!  Luckily Amy and Lizi were there to pick it up!  When I got to the finish and the bouncers wouldn’t let me past the barriers so it’s only when Geraint came to find me that they believed me that I was his girlfriend!  Well I definitely tried my best to get in some pics, although not sure how successful I was, I made sure I was right in the front though!  I remember him walking on to the podium, and I felt so proud of him. We were supposed to go and see the Britain’s Got Talent tour that night in Newcastle, but Ger looked absolutely shattered so I let him off, just as well really because he was asleep by 9!

What is a typical day in the life of a cyclists girlfriend like, during the season? [long distance phone calls, checking stage/race results etc etc]

When Geraint’s away racing the day normally starts by Geraint sending me a text that wakes me up!  I try to speak to him before the start, but if not we just send a couple of texts, just saying “pob lwc” (good luck in Welsh, I’ve managed to teach him that!) and what the plan for that day is.  During the race, I just do my own thing and get back in time to see the end on telly.  I speak to him briefly after the race and then Skype later that night, don’t know what we’d do without Skype!  For the first week of the Tour this year, I was in Turkey with my family but we spent most of the day glued to the tv because Geraint was doing so well.  I remember the stage where he came 2nd, we were all watching and couldn’t really believe it!  Team Sky are easy to look for because of the “Sky” that’s on their bums, so I remember just watching and trying to spot the “Sky” to see if he was still there, and when I saw he got second it didn’t really sink in for a while!  I remember texting Ger saying how well he’s done, the thing is Ger has two phones and he didn’t have the phone that I text on him, so I remember getting a text about 20 mins later off his other phone saying “I did quite well today, I got 2nd so pretty pleased.”  I couldn’t believe how calm he was about the whole thing, I was jumping up and down!  Don’t think it sunk in how well he’d done until later that night, when he realised he was second in the Tour de France!

Do you have a “list” & if so what’s on it? [I have to confess to only starting a list once I reached the grand old age of 30!]  run a marathon, sky dive that sort of thing.

No don’t really have a list, Ger says I tend to live in my own world on occasions so maybe I should start.  We both tend to go with the flow, but the only thing we have agreed is that when Geraint finishes cycling we will both run the London Marathon together.  Not sure if that will happen, or more importantly whether we’d be speaking by the end of it, but I’d like to think we’ll do it some day.

What does the future hold for you professionally & personally?

Professionally I’m just focusing on my degree at the moment, and making sure that I leave uni with the best degree that I can.  Personally, who knows?!  All I can really say is that I can’t imagine life without Geraint.

In three words, how does it feel to be the girlfriend of an Olympic Gold Medallist?

Proud, exciting and unfit!

Huge thanks go to Sara & Geraint for giving up their time to answer my questions.  And also Gayle from Seren PR for helping to make this interview/chinwag happen.

All images have been provided by Sara.

You can follow Geraint on twitter & facebook