One-by-one, Ineos Grenadiers rolled out their potential GC leaders for this year’s Tour de France to face the media, and one-by-one they were asked the same questions over their internal hierarchy. A fair question, given that this is the biggest race of the year and the team purposely decided to remain vague on that matter when they announced their line-up last week.
The most unique aspect of the press conference wasn't when Geraint Thomas was cringingly asked about Wales' progress at football's European Championships but when his younger teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart opened up about diversity within cycling and whether more riders should use their platforms to help causes and affect change.
The 26-year-old has been a conscious advocate for the growth of women's sport, as well as supporting the LGBTQ+ community, for some time now; it's just that the attention from his Giro d'Italia victory last year has amplified his opinions. Coupled with the heightened awareness around the lack of racial diversity in cycling, it has enhanced Geoghegan Hart's stature of something as a voice for change.
When asked whether his choice to use his platform to pick up on important topics such as gender and diversity was down to a generational aspect, the Londoner took stock of the question, paused, and then gave one of the most insightful answers provided during Thursday's entire barrage of back-to-back press conferences.
At a time when the entity of the sports press conference has faced questions of its own validity, it was a timely reminder of how, if used properly, it remains one of the best avenues for athletes and journalists to converse.
"I don’t think it's responsible for me to talk about others and why they may or may not do different things," Tao Geoghegan Hart opened with.
"I think that across the wider sporting landscape - and I’m not just talking about cycling here - you’re seeing a generation with a greater level of social awareness, who understand that they have a privilege to try and create change or spread messages that they believe can bring positivity."
Geoghegan Hart is still trying to inspire change through his own efforts and remains committed to trying to bring a rider from the BAME community into the U23 ranks later this year. He has agreed to sponsor a rider on Axel Merckx’s Hagens Berman Axeon – the squad where Geoghegan Hart learned the ropes – and the Giro winner brought up other athletes who have also used their media profiles to encourage wide-ranging progress outside of sport.
"They can see that it’s about more than just inspiring the next generation through their sport," he said. "That’s the number one priority but when I look around at the likes of Dina Asher-Smith, who I went to the youth Olympics, with or Marcus Rashford, all of these young sportspeople who are often engaged with the local communities that they grew up in, that resonates the most.
"There’s a lot of strength to be taken from that because it gives you perspective on how lucky we are as sportspeople and how privileged we are to do what we do."
There are many examples of how athletes can be seen as aloof or disengaged from the reality that lies outside of their immediate bubbles. Geoghegan Hart is in some regards no different, in the sense that he lives and breathes professional cycling, but he’s clearly also conscious enough to realise that sport is about more than just team hierarchies, results, and jersey presentations.
After last year’s small and almost silent response from the Tour when it came to the BLM movement, Geoghegan Hart reminded those in attendance that everyone can do their part in making sport and every another aspect of life more open, accessible, and tolerant.
"In my case, I have my very, very tiny ability and power to do something like sending a social media message or speaking out about something," he said. "You still have that chance, so why would you not take it, in my opinion?"
Tour de France Femmes
Geoghegan Hart also made a point of praising both ASO and Zwift for the decision to launch the Tour de France Femmes in 2022.
ASO have been roundly criticised for their sluggish support of women’s sport over the years, while race director Christian Prudhomme's comments earlier this spring were rightly castigated. However, the fact that, after years of campaigning by personalities such as Kathryn Bertine and Emma Pooley, a women’s Tour France is finally on the horizon.
"It’s great," Geoghegan Hart said. "We’ve seen over the last year that La Course has gathered momentum. It's moved away from the Champs Elysées and moved around France, which for me is an amazing thing about cycling – the different areas that races can inhabit.
"What comes with that accessibility is that we need as much representation as we can get in the sport. It’s great to see this next forward step by the sport, I’m very happy to see it. I’m excited for the race next year. Chapeau to Zwift for coming in from the get-go."
Of course, Geoghegan Hart is at the Tour de France to race. He arguably sits fourth in the Ineos pecking order, with Geraint Thomas, Richard Carapaz and Richie Porte ahead of him. This is Geoghegan Hart’s first Tour and he took a rather humble stance – although at one point he did label a question about hierarchy as 'ridiculous’ – when discussing what being in Brest meant for him personally.
"Just to be in this team, in this squad that comes here to this race and the pinnacle of professional cycling is just a massive thing and it’s something that I’ve been aiming for all my career really," he said.
"I’m super happy to be here with a fantastic team and a lot of momentum from the last weeks. For me personally, this is the pinnacle of cycling and it’s the race that I think most riders can trace the origins of their passion for cycling and their own careers and lives back to. It’s going to be a big experience, no doubt. There are some big weeks coming."
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