In the Winners’ Words: Tao Geoghegan Hart
December 3, 2020
Extract from The Road Book 2020 Edition. To read more from Tao Geoghegan Hart and many more, words and much more, purchase your first edition copy today.
The first time Tao Geoghegan Hart wore the leader’s jersey at the Giro, the race had already finished. It was a truly extraordinary finale to a mighty edition, which came to a crescendo on the famous Stelvio Pass when he announced himself as a genuine GC threat after being paced up the climb by the exceptional Rohan Dennis. Before that, Geoghegan Hart had already ridden to victory at Piancavallo – a win he dedicated to the memory of Nicolas Portal, the much-loved Team Ineos DS who had died in the spring. The young Londoner won again on stage 20, to tie exactly with Australian Jai Hindley on a completed 88 hours, 22 minutes and 7 seconds. A short time trial in Milan would seal the Giro, and see Geoghegan Hart reunited with his partner, and fellow professional racer, Hannah Barnes. It was a fairy-tale ending to the most unexpected Grand Tour outcome for generations.
I have two clear images. The first image is of me crossing the line in Piancavallo – my first WorldTour win, a first Grand Tour stage win. It was a huge, huge step. The other one is of me tucked in behind Rohan [Dennis] on the Stelvio, with the snow all around. I think of everything that climb represents. It is so much more than just a road and the race is so much more than just a race. That climb is a metaphor for the Giro.
Those two images feel quite intertwined. Because, without the first,you wouldn’t have the second.
It was my first time in Sicily. The Italians talk about it as a little bit of a mythical place, very different to mainland Italy. We had Salvo [Salvatore Puccio] with us. His family’s from there and he was born there. We spoke quite a lot about it at dinner, trying to understand the mechanisms of the island and the history and the intrigue, the various things that may or may not go on there. It was certainly beautiful. I’d like to go back there.
I was right next to Geraint when he crashed. I stopped at the side of the road for I don’t know how long. It felt like a really long time. We rode down to kilometre zero. G was just behind us, and the peloton waited. The doctors kind of bandaged him up. And then we got to racing and from that point on it was all very unspoken and very professional. I think a few of us teammates exchanged the odd word away from Geraint, but certainly nothing was said to him. We just approached the race exactly how we otherwise would have done until told otherwise.
It was a difficult day, definitely my worst day in the Giro. It was the only stage where I had any problems. I think I hunger-flatted on Etna. I’d felt really, really good and surprisingly able to compartmentalise everything until the last 2km, when I just didn’t have any legs. It wasn’t like they went faster; I just went considerably slower.
By stage 4, we were still in a bit of shell shock. We got to Messina and we got on a boat more or less directly from the finish, after showering in the bus. Then we drove to the hotel. I think everyone was pretty raw from what happened the day before. It showed how much everyone was invested in G and how much it meant to everyone.
And then the next day, a man called Filippo Ganna decided that he was going to attack. I don’t think he even decided actually, he just did it. It was the longest stage of the race and Filippo made the breakaway by taking Puccio with him and going full gas on a slight downhill road. He forced it by dispatching people from his wheel. There are probably only three people on this planet that have the ability to do that. And then somehow, he went on to win a tough mountain stage up a long climb alone in the rain, in almost zero visibility on the top.
We were in amazement afterwards. I was in awe of Filippo and I still am. That day changed the rest of the race. Without it, I don’t know how the race would have been. That was the fire-starter. It was a moment. It wasn’t a gradual change. What had happened, so cruelly, had happened. But he just flipped it right back onto the A-side of the record and got the music back on. And off we went. Filippo, that day, started something new and turned a new chapter not only in that race, but in our team, in our year – and maybe, to some extent, in cycling.
Without it, I don’t know if any of the Giro would have happened. Johnny [Jhonatan Narváez] won an incredible stage in amazing fashion and kind of shrugged it off in the way that only he could. We got to midway through the race and already we had three stage wins. A team that’s lost their leader in that fashion and has three wins in the pocket and a few days in pink has a certain freedom. We just continued to express ourselves and carried that momentum on.