Today was just another Sunday, Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) had suggested ahead of the final stage of the Giro d’Italia, but he knew that wasn’t true. The exercise, a 10-mile time trial, was familiar from his youth, but the stakes had never been this high.
Three weeks of racing across all terrains, all conditions and all manner of circumstances had led to a stalemate between Geoghegan Hart and Jai Hindley (Sunweb), who entered the final day locked on the same time. Hindley wore the maglia rosa by dint of a countback of decimal places from the first two time trials of the Giro, but now Geoghegan Hart was the favourite to take it off him in the last.
“I just tried to treat it like any stage, any day of the week, any Sunday, and now here we are,” Geoghegan Hart said softly an hour or so after he had received the Trofeo Senza Fine as the Giro winner in Piazza del Duomo.
“It’s like a strange dream. I was just so focused all day on doing my stage and performance. It was pretty simple: it was just about being your best and focusing on doing a good TT. In the end, it went pretty well.”
An early and strictly unofficial time check after two kilometres suggested that Geoghegan Hart and Hindley were still locked on the same time, but the Briton gradually began to pull away from his rival thereafter. Turning a heavier gear than Hindley, Geoghegan Hart had six seconds in hand after 4km and by the lone official check, after 10.3km, the margin was 22 seconds.
In the end, he beat Hindley by 36 seconds to claim the final and most lasting maglia rosa of a most unusual Giro, which had proved indecipherable for much of its three weeks.
“I only really knew we must have been in pretty good situation when [Ineos directeur sportif] Matteo Tosatto screamed to not take any risks in the last kilometre,” Geoghegan Hart said. “It’s not often your DS tells you to slow down in a 15-kilometre TT. I knew the work was done at that point, so it was incredible to arrive at the Duomo in the centre of Milan.”
Geoghegan Hart began the race as part of Geraint Thomas’ supporting cohort, but then a bidon bounced into the Welshman’s path in the neutralised zone in Enna on stage 3, and the Londoner’s race was utterly changed. That inauspicious flapping of wings was the beginning of the perfect storm that carried Geoghegan Hart, by way of stage wins at Piancavallo and Sestriere, to a most unexpected maglia rosa.
“I think in cycling you have to be adaptable and flexible, because in so many races, unexpected things happen,” Geoghegan Hart said. “I’ve been on the bad end of that so many times but this time it’s turned into something incredible that none of us could have imagined.
“When ‘G’ crashed out that day in Sicily, it was really difficult for the team. We watched him there in the neutral zone, and when he went home, it was really hard. We tried to reset and change our goals and, somehow, in this crazy world, we’ve ended up doing this. I can’t believe it, but I’m incredibly happy.”
Early development and patience
Geoghegan Hart’s overall victory was complemented by seven stage victories – a third of the total available – for his Ineos Grenadiers team, a remarkable response after their long sequence of Tour de France success was interrupted in September. The exclusion of Chris Froome and Thomas from the Tour selection had seemed to herald the end of an era for British cycling. While, in recent weeks for Dave Brailsford’s team, former Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman’s medical tribunal generated more column inches back home than the Giro.
“I don’t think it’s the end of an era, there are lots of strong riders in Britain and as good as me, so I don’t think it’s the end of an era but rather the continuation of an incredible decade for British cycling,” said Geoghegan Hart, who has become Britain’s fifth Grand Tour winner, and at just 25 years of age. “I’m proud to be part of it.”
Geoghegan Hart’s development, of course, owes as much to the work of Axel Merckx as it does to his national federation. He famously preferred to spend an additional year with Merckx’s Axeon development team before eventually joining Team Sky in 2017. While Matteo Tosatto’s instructions crackled through his earpiece on Sunday afternoon, Merckx’s advice echoed around the recesses of his mind.
“I was thinking about Axel all the time in the time trial, because he always used to tell me all the mistakes I’d made when he used to follow me,” Geoghegan Hart said. “He’s going through a tricky time at the moment looking for sponsors, but I have to thank him. He always tried to instil patience in me.”
That quality has stood to Geoghegan Hart during his tenure at Ineos, where he has had to bide his time to move up the hierarchy in a team laden with stage racing talent. An opportunity presented itself unexpectedly at the Giro and he seized it firmly, though he preferred not to dwell on what it meant for his status and his young career.
“I don’t know, and I don’t really care,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy this. It's incredible. I’m going to stay the same person, I’m going to stay professional and dedicated, as I believe I always have been.”
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