Tao Geoghegan Hart is a man of surprises. The rider from Hackney, London, was expected to perform in the final mountains or the individual time trial of the Tour de l'Avenir, one of his major goals as an under-23 rider, but he instead decided to attack on Saturday's opening stage, where he went into a break and took 50 seconds out of the other top contenders. "The race is not over at all, it's a long way to next Saturday," Geoghegan Hart told Cyclingnews. "I like this type of racing, quite aggressive and unpredictable."
His pro contract with Team Sky, announced earlier this week, was also a bit of a surprise. A trainee for the British squad last season, Geoghegan Hart seemed set to sign a contract for 2016 but then delayed his promotion to WorldTour level by one year. That meant he could have chosen another team in between, but he finally opted for the first one, the one logical to him, and reached an agreement with Sky for 2017.
"At the end it was a pretty simple choice," the 20-year-old explained. "Sky is the best team in the world and this is a dream come true. Now I will have a real opportunity to develop with some of the best athletes in sports, with the best coaching and the best environment, from nutrition to equipment and training programs."
Though Sky is definitely one of the best organised teams in the world – and the wealthiest – it has proved a difficult structure for neo-professionals. American Joe Dombrowski, for instance, had some difficulties in adapting when he was signed in 2013, and left for Cannondale after the 2014 season.
For his part, Tao Geoghegan Hart is confident he can "find his place" within Sky in the coming months. "Gianni Moscon turned pro with Sky and he is doing pretty well," Geoghegan Hart pointed out. "Gianni experienced races such as Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix and he had his chance at the Arctic Race and he won the general classification. Of course every rider is different, but that's an interesting example."
Winning is not everything for the British all-rounder just yet, and he would like to experience various kinds of racing before defining his profile as a rider. Geoghegan Hart's results to date show real versatility, both at the Classics (he was third in the junior Paris-Roubaix, and twice third at the under-23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège), and stage races (second overall at both the Peace Race and Tour de Savoie-Mont Blanc this year). His climbing is promising, as is his ability in the time trial. Asked how he would define himself, he was succinct. "I am a bike racer," he said, adding: "You must do everything as a rider, at least as an Under 23..."
That's the reason why Geoghegan Hart postponed his debut in the WorldTour. "There is a big difference between being able to do well 50 days a year and being consistent for 60 or 70 days," he said. This choice also reflects the high ambitions of the rider, who doesn't want to be just a rider, but rather a winner.
Trained by British Cycling as a junior, and polished by Axel Merckx for the past two years at Continental team Axeon in the United States, Geoghegan Hart is now back in the Sky family, which shares his lofty ambitions.
Brailsford failed to hire the Yates brothers when they turned professional and is still looking for a British rider to "replace" Froome within three or four years. Geoghegan Hart could be this awaited leader, even if he downplays the idea.
"I don't feel any pressure," he said. "I know how to be patient. This is what I learnt from this extra year as an under-23. I know I still would like to be racing in 16 or 18 years. So I must take my time. At the end of the day you must have done your best and you must be happy with that."
Long-term plans are more and more difficult to follow, though, in an era where pressure is high, and the marginal gains and daily life demanded of a cyclist are very demanding. Team Sky has proved to be the right team to claim strong results for many riders but others have struggled to perform or didn't cope well with the numerous days at training camps far from their families. Tao Geoghegan Hart, who divides his time between London and Girona, Spain, is not worried about the new life ahead of him. "As long as I can read books, have a little walk and go to the beach with my girlfriend, I can enjoy my life," he smiled.