After 85 hours, 22 minutes and seven seconds, only the finest of margins separate Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jai Hindley at the top of the Giro d’Italia’s overall standings.
The two young riders, 25 and 24 respectively, arrived at the Giro ready to bury themselves for more experienced team leaders, but after riding away from the rest of the field on the last two mountain days of the race they now face a final showdown to decide the victor of what is the closest final stage of a Grand Tour in history.
“It was up to [Hindley] to create the time differences,” Geoghegan Hart said after stage 20, having held on to Hindley’s attacks up the final ascent of the Sestriere, the Australian knowing his British rival is superior in the race against the clock. “The difference is so very small. We’ll see what happens.”
Geoghegan Hart isn’t shying away from his status as the favourite between the two, but is wary of time trial deciders at Grand Tours, given Tadej Pogačar’s recent shock win over Primož Roglič at the Tour de France.
“Whether I am the big favourite for the overall victory? Maybe so, but we still have a stage to go. Anything can happen,” Geoghegan Hart said, before explaining the reason why he had gone 49 seconds slower than Hindley in the opening, short time trial of this Giro. “Back then I was not at full speed. I was initially here for Geraint Thomas. Moreover, we are now three weeks further [into the race].
On that day, a longer and lumpier course than the pan-flat offering they’ll face in Milan, Geoghegan Hart put 1-25 into Hindley. For the Australian, he feels he’s done all he can to put himself in the position he’s in, and anything else from here on out is simply a bonus.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since my childhood. Wearing a leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour is an incredible privilege. It’s just not ideal to take over from Wilco [Kelderman],” Hindley said after taking the maglia rosa by fractions of a second on stage 20.
“[Geoghegan Hart] didn’t look good on the first climb. At that point I thought I would still ride away but in the end, I didn’t have the legs,” Hindley explained of his attempts to dislodge Geoghegan Hart up the final ascent of the Sestriere to the finish line. “I gave everything in the last few kilometres, but I couldn’t…in the sprint he turned out to be too strong.
“I’m going to give everything tomorrow and then we’ll see. In any case, I am very happy with my performance in this Giro and with the way the team has ridden.”
Both riders face a career-changing ride on Sunday afternoon, but the last word from Tao Geoghegan Hart before his ride is one that reminds us of the exceptional circumstances in which racing has prevailed this year, and thrown up one of the all-time Grand Tour finales.
“Sundays for me will always be playing football on the marshes and going to Brick Lane market with my old man and brother,” the East Londoner posted on Twitter the morning before the time trial. “Today is just another Sunday. I haven’t seen my family in 10 months, but they are always with me.”