“Tao, you made it onto the podium anyway, didn’t you? Most combative rider on the day…”
“I just had to wait half an hour for a little trophy.”
“Yeah but come on, that’s a moment, isn’t it? Talk us through these pictures.”
“That’s me lifting the very prestigious most stupid rider on stage 20.”
One year, one month and 11 days later and it’s a far less stupid prize Tao Geoghegan Hart is concerned with, having won the maglia rosa of the Giro d’Italia.
The 25-year-old London-born Scot’s story starts in Hackney, East London, his father a builder by trade and his son rising through the ranks at Hackney Cycling Club.
“He came to us through football and swimming. He liked the idea of cycling because he was fed up with other people letting him down, and cycling is a sport where it’s largely down to the individual,” Hackney Cycling Club’s coach Keir Apperley told the Guardian.
Soon, Geoghegan Hart had made it onto the Great Britain junior squad but had his heart set on the road rather than the track, so mostly focused his efforts with Hagens Berman Axeon, supported from the Dave Rayner Fund.
The youth team run by Eddy Merckx’s son Axel has produced a number of talented riders, many of whom have shone at this year’s Italian Grand Tour. Stage winners Alex Dowsett (Israel Start-Up Nation), Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos) as well as the race’s maglia rosa for the first two and a half weeks, João Almeida (Deceuninck – Quick-Step). Such is the economic nature of the sport that just as the team’s ability to produce talented riders is shining through on one of the biggest stages, their future is increasingly in doubt as sponsorship funds dry up.
For Geoghegan Hart, he turned down the opportunity to join Team Sky in 2015 in favour of the Continental outfit, despite having ridden as a stagiaire that year for the British squad.
Two years later in 2017, aged 22, he stepped up to the WorldTour, finding his feet slowly but surely and riding his first Grand Tour at the 2018 Vuelta a España, before taking two stage wins at the Tour of the Alps in 2019.
Those results were the product of a steady upwards trajectory, and earned him joint leadership with Pavel Sivakov for Team Sky’s first Grand Tour as Team Ineos at the 2019 Giro d’Italia.
Falls and bloodied knees blighted any semblance of a GC bid from Geoghegan Hart, who eventually abandoned on stage 13, having received a literal crash course in the brutality of three-week stage racing when you’re looking to do more than just make it to the finish line every day.
Geoghegan is described as a meticulous individual, dedicated to his craft and ambitious about what he wants to achieve. In a 2015 interview with Mamnick, he reveals the sort of attitude that eventually paid dividends for the man he was supposed to ride for at the 2020 Giro, Geraint Thomas, as he bid his time before getting his own shot at individual glory. For Geoghegan Hart, it’s a perfect alignment of talent and circumstance that sees him in the position he is now.
“One part of Charly Wegelius’ book has always stayed in my mind. Charly tells how Eddy Merckx had said in the press that if Axel (his son, my boss) had had a team-mate like Charly, he would have won that day. I’d like to have something like that myself, respect from a real great, one day. [I’m] still chasing it,” Geoghegan Hart said.
Returning to Italy a year and a half later, so much had changed amongst the hierarchy within Team Ineos. Egan Bernal’s Tour title defence had fallen flat, Froome was on his way out of the team and riding his last Grand Tour for Ineos at the Vuelta, and Geraint Thomas was looking to target the Giro d’Italia after being omitted from their Tour squad.
Within three days, Thomas’ Giro GC bid had also gone up in flames, slipping on a bidon and fracturing his hip. Ineos responded in the only way they knew how, by winning.
Filippo Ganna doubled his stage victory tally, winning from the breakaway on stage five, before also dominating the stage 14 time trial, as Jhonatan Narváez also took a solo win on stage 12.
Then, on stage 15, Tao Geoghegan Hart was the only other rider able to stick with Wilco Kelderman and his Sunweb domestique Jai Hindley, outsprinting them to take the biggest victory of his career. This ride also boosted him up inside the top 10 of the general classification, from 11th to fourth. With João Almeida (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) expected to fall away any day now, Geoghegan Hart was quickly becoming the only challenger to Sunweb’s looming grip on the race.
On stage 18 Tao Geoghegan Hart launched his assault on the maglia rosa. Up the Stelvio he and team-mate Rohan Dennis dislodged incoming race leader Wilco Kelderman, with Jai Hindley protecting his advantage over the Brit by outsprinting him on the line.
Two days later, however, it was Geoghegan Hart who had the faster finish as he beat his Australian rival to the summit of the Sestriere to bring them level at the top of the general classification, the first time this has ever happened before the final stage of a Grand Tour.
Geoghegan Hart says what he was about to achieve began to dawn on him the morning before the final time trial, but you wouldn’t have known it from how he rode, calmly putting 39 seconds into Jai Hindley to secure the overall victory.
Having written his name into the history books we will no doubt get to know the 25-year-old better as the year’s pass, but his post-race interview was very much from the wheelhouse of a Bradley Wiggins or Geraint Thomas.
“I don’t know and I don’t really care,” he responded to the ravenous media asking what the future of his career holds.
Refreshing candidness is a quality often overlooked in champions, but one we should treasure. Why bother about what tomorrow holds when today you stand atop it?
“January 2010. Team Sky launch, London. A 14-year-old boy asks for a photo and tells me he had just won a competition. He is so proud to be able to join Team Sky on a ride through the center of London,” writes CCC’s Serge Pauwels, who rode for Sky between 2010-2011. “October 2020. The same boy has become a 25-year-old man and wins the Giro d’Italia.”
Brailsford describes the above story as something from a comic book, and this year of all years, it’s nice to have a story with a happy ending.