After impressing at the Critérium du Dauphiné and then again at the recent Vuelta a Burgos with fifth overall, Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Sky) will make his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a España. The 23-year-old is in his second year at Team Sky and, as he tells Cyclingnews Editor Daniel Benson, he isn't just heading to Spain for the experience.
Cyclingnews: You head into your maiden Grand Tour in a few days with the Vuelta a España. How's your form coming into the race?
Tao Geoghegan Hart: I didn't feel super at the Tour of Burgos but the team more or less gave me the choice of programme, which was really nice. So, I decided to get a few extra race days in because I always seem to struggle at the start of races. I don't really know what it is - maybe the different leg speed, the inertia of racing compared to training - but it was important because I could feel big jumps between London, San Sebastián, and then again at Burgos.
It was hard because I wanted to do well and challenge for the win at Burgos, especially as it's one of the few 1.1 races I get to do in the year. I already had two and half weeks of training after nationals and I ended up overdoing it a bit after the Dauphiné, training too much, which is so easy to do when you're feeling good. I learned some good lessons from that but overall Burgos was good. If I'd been flying there I'd have been stressed out but there were positives and negatives.
Cyclingnews: The Vuelta represents your first Grand Tour but are you going there with the ambition of just gaining experience or are there bigger goals?
Tao Geoghegan Hart: That's still a little bit in discussion. I'm still waiting to hear what the team thinks exactly. Last year I was a bit unlucky, in that I wanted to do the Vuelta and obviously Chris [Froome] was going for it so they went for more experienced guys, which was completely understandable. So in hindsight, it would have been great to do it but there was no rush. I did some really nice races and a really good block. In contrast, this year I've been quite lucky that because of the team success we've had so far this year in Grand Tours, things are perhaps a little more open.
On a personal level, I'm not just going to the Vuelta for the experience. Whether that's about helping deep into the finales, as I was in the Dauphiné, I don't know yet. A lot will depend on the body and how it recovers. I think that the longest race I've done is Suisse, so it will be interesting but I've always managed to hold my legs as races have gone on. Hopefully, I won't regret saying that, but I definitely don't want to go there just for the experience. I want to make the most of it and try and discover what I can do in weeks two and three at one of the biggest races in the year.
Cyclingnews: Team Sky have not selected Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas for the race, and they're doing the Tour of Britain instead. How does that affect the dynamic and ambitions within the Vuelta squad?
Tao Geoghegan Hart: That changes things massively. There aren't too many races throughout the year where Team Sky don't turn up with a rider who isn't in the top three favourites. Maybe that will be the case as the Vuelta develops but as things stand it looks like more of an open team. I don't know if it's all going to be about stage hunting because I think there will be some guys still looking at GC. It's a change in racing style, and it's a massive chance. I was expecting, before the Tour, that Geraint would do the Vuelta, but the Tour went so well for him. I'm super happy for him but I intend on making the most of this opportunity. We've still got a really strong squad and we'll be aiming to go in with big objectives.
Cyclingnews: The way you rode at the Dauphiné… there was some talk of you doing the Tour. That didn't happen but how do you think the Vuelta will set you up for the future in terms of Grand Tours?
Tao Geoghegan Hart: In the end, before you've done a three-week race you can hypothesize and predict all you want but you don't know how it's going to go, especially from a GC perspective or a high-performing domestique perspective. For me, the most important aspect is consistency. It's about not having massively bad days or crumbling, so this is a chance to show what I can do and make another step forward. I think the Vuelta can really set me up for the off-season and when it comes to planning what's possible next season.
Yes, I heard some talk about doing the Tour this year but for me, it was never going to happen, just because of the way my season had been planned. Up until July I'd had no real time off or extended periods of rest. My big race from that period was the Dauphiné and I was intent on making the most of that chance. That was my first time racing with any semblance of the Tour squad.
Cyclingnews: Some riders go to Team Sky and never make a Grand Tour team. Was there ever a concern, in your mind, of that happening to you?
Tao Geoghegan Hart: My mentality, long before I joined this team, is that you're never going to a race until you're given the official selection. Even then there are still several days when you need to stay safe in training and not get sick. You've always got that doubt, I guess, in high-performance sport. Like I said, last year I wanted to do the race and I felt like I was going well but in the end, I was the first or second reserve. I understood why because they were going to take guys who were definitely going to perform over the three weeks. That comes with the strength in depth and there were a lot of guys who wanted to do the Vuelta this year because there were a lot of riders who did the Giro and Tour, or just the Tour, and that left a lot of guys without a Grand Tour.
For me, the Dauphiné was a big tick in terms of performing close to the top level of the sport and that was great for the confidence. To be up there making the selection of eight to 12 guys was great. As soon as that race finished I was thinking about the Vuelta. I can't wait to get stuck in.