Geoghegan Hart targeting GC result at Tour of Utah

British U23 road champion Tao Geoghegan Hart (Axeon Hagens Berman) is in Utah this week to shoot for a top general classification result in his third attempt at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

Geoghegan Hart finished 39th overall during his first race in 2014, but then jumped to 13th last year in the race that bills itself as America's toughest.

"It's always different coming back to racing for the first time in a little while," he told Cyclingnews before the stage 2 start in Escalante. "I haven't raced since nationals. I had a little break after that and then built back up. You have different sensations and then throw altitude into the mix and you can't really predict how that goes."

Things have gone well so far for Geoghegan Hart's Axeon team this week, with teammate Colin Joyce finishing second during the opening stage and Logan Owen coming in fifth. It was a good start for the team and a nice way to set the tone for the rest of the week.

"I think on paper it doesn't always look amazing to get second and fifth on the stage, but there weren't really any big trains or anything in the finish and it was quite chaotic and big swarms and stuff," he said. "So having two guys going for the sprint actually meant that we covered our bases a little bit more than someone getting boxed in.

"I was just trying to get Colin and Logan get up there as best as possible, working with both of them to try and get into position. It was a good start and we'll try and build on it throughout the week."

Stage 2 ended with a duo of breakaway riders sticking it to the line, with Holowesko-Citadel's Robin Carpenter taking the stage win. Geoghegan Hart and his teammates finished safely in the bunch just over two minutes later.

The GC riders will get their first test today during stage 3, however, as the 192km route from Richfield to Payson takes the peloton over Mt. Nebo, which tops out at nearly 3,000 metres. The last time the race used this route in 2013, Lachlan Morton, riding for Garmin-Sharp at the time, soloed to the stage win and the overall lead.

Geoghegan Hart told Cyclingnews he's ready to face down the altitude during the stage and start a run at a top overall result.

"I've been pretty consistent over the last few years with GC, and I felt like I stepped up pretty nicely in training prior to this, and the preparation's gone well," he said. "So I don't see any reason why not, and I think we have a strong team. That's another thing, the team GC would be nice as well. OK, it's not the biggest competition in the world, but there's no reason not to try and take it."

Even the heady heights of the American West's many peaks don't seem to intimidate Geogheagn Hart, who finished seventh overall in last year's USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. He told Cyclingnews he's ridden most of the climbs in this week's race and he knows what to expect from both the route and his body.

"I was telling my Latvian teammate Krists [Nielands], who's never been to altitude before, prior to the race that sometimes you just have to shut the head off and ignore how you're feeling because actually a lot of guys are feeling the same, and you can actually surprise yourself," Geogheagn Hart said.

"Even when you feel like you're really on the limit you can actually stay there for a lot longer just because of the altitude makes you feel like you're going full gas so much sooner."

After the Tour of Utah, Axeon will race at the Tour of Alberta the first week of September, but 21-year-old Geoghegan Hart's three-year run with Axel Merckx's development team could quickly be coming to an end.

Geoghegan Hart stagiaired with Team Sky at the end of last season, competing in the British super team's colours at the Japan Cup in October. But when Cyclingnews asked him if he would be riding with Team Sky full-time next year, he declined to answer, saying instead that news about his plans for next year would be forthcoming.

"I think something will be announced in the next few weeks," he said, "so I'm really excited about that and looking forward to that."

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.