Tao Geoghegan Hart Set to Make Tour de France Debut
Updated: Feb 4, 2021
In an interview with The Telegraph this morning, defending Giro d'Italia champion Tao Geoghegan Hart revealed that he would be missing the Italian Grand Tour this year, in favour of a debut appearance at the Tour de France. Speaking with Tom Cary, Geoghegan Hart praised the Tour as "the biggest race in cycling", admitting that he "wanted to target something new and different". Whilst this may come as a shock to some, with Geoghegan Hart missing out on the chance to adorn the iconic No.1 in Italy, it is perhaps less of a surprise in reality.
Geoghegan Hart storms up the Stelvio on stage 18 of the Giro, in the wheeltracks of the effervescent Rohan Dennis. © Cor Vos
At 25 years of age, Geoghegan Hart is by no means running out of opportunities to race the Tour, but it must feel like an overdue opportunity if he is to line up in France this June. It is little known, but before going on to take his first Grand Tour overall success in Italy last year, Geoghegan Hart was instead determined to line up in France in August. In mid June prior to the season restart, Geoghegan Hart spoke with Ineos Grenadiers' head coach Tim Kerrison and it was decided that given Geoghegan Hart's form following lockdown, he would target the Tour. His race programme would begin with La Route d'Occitanie and the Tour de l'Ain, with a final decision being made afterwards.
At La Route d'Occitanie, Geoghegan Hart was in superb form and was a key lieutenant for Egan Bernal's stage 3 success (en route to Bernal taking the overall title). He reduced the front group to around 5 riders after finishing his turn with 2km to go, leaving teammate Pavel Sivakov to finish off the lead-out for Bernal to take stage honours. However, Geoghegan Hart's path to the Tour was blighted by a crash on stage 2 at the Tour de l'Ain. He broke his shoe and rear mech, going down with Toms Skujiņš amongst others, but sustained no obvious serious damage. In an interview with Richard Moore of The Cycling Podcast, Geoghegan played down the severity of the crash:
"It wasn't like a bad crash, I just had skin off, nothing else. But it just knocked me for six, I hadn't lost skin in over a year".
Admitting that he didn't find his legs for quite a while following the fall, Geoghegan Hart pulled out of the race the following day and said that it "100%" scuppered his chances of going to the Tour. On the day of his withdrawal, where the race was due to finish on the Grand Colombier (almost a recon for stage 15 of the Tour de France), he was dropped within a couple of minutes of the opening climb. After reaching the top of the climb, he descended straight back down to the team bus and abandoned. Despite hopes that good showings at Il Lombardia or the Giro dell'Emilia would prove enough to secure his place at the Grand Boucle in France, both races came too soon and he was a DNF at both events.
Geoghegan Hart marks the attack of Kenny Elissonde on the Col de Beyrède, on the way to Egan Bernal's stage victory at La Route d'Occitanie. © Getty Images Sport
"Coming into the Giro it was definitely a case of looking to rescue an otherwise lost season", Geoghegan admits to Moore... and rescue the season he did, and more.
Despite a mediocre opening time trial where he was looking to save his legs for future work on behalf of team leader Geraint Thomas, it was in the third week where Geoghegan Hart lit up the race following Thomas' premature departure with injury. Taking stage victory at Piancavallo on stage 15 and in Sestriere on stage 20, either side of a monumental day out on the Passo dello Stelvio that saw João Almeida lose the maglia rosa, Geoghegan Hart and team-mate Rohan Dennis turned the Giro on its head. Beginning the final week more than three minutes down, Geoghegan Hart went into the final day's time trial level on time with Team Subweb's Jai Hindley. Given his superiority in the discipline, it was almost a formality in Milan as Geoghegan Hart took 39 seconds on Hindley to secure the overall title. Geoghegan Hart had entered Italy with a desire to rescue a "lost season", he left Milan wearing the maglia rosa and became only the second British rider to win the race.
The boy turned man from Hackney is clearly still riding on a wave of confidence, rightfully so, following his incredible third week in Italy, "I think three-week racing really suits me physiologically", he says to Clary. Referring back to his heroics in Italy, he adds "I think with that race in mind, that does give me the confidence to dream about trying to challenge for the Tour". Despite his understandable downplaying of his chances as of now, it would not be beyond the realms of possibility to see Geoghegan Hart win in France this July. Whilst in the past a debut rider would very rarely find such success, with Geoghegan Hart's childhood hero Bradley Wiggins taking the overall title in Paris at his sixth attempt (admittedly not all six attempts had been with GC in mind), the previous two winners of the Tour (Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogačar) have both been very inexperienced. With a Grand Tour victory already on his palmarès, something neither Bernal nor Pogačar had prior to their wins, one would be silly to rule out Geoghegan Hart leaving France as champion come July.
Whether he tastes success in France or not, it shall be interesting to find out who will line up alongside Geoghegan Hart at the Tour, with Egan Bernal recently hinting to La Gazzetta dello Sport that he may target the Giro.
"The Giro comes first in the calendar, and in my head, option number one is to be at the start. It would be special."
Egan Bernal looks set to target the Giro d"Italia this year
With Bernal looking set for the Giro accompanied by Pavel Sivakov and Dani Martínez, as confirmed recently by Dave Brailsford, this leaves the door open for Geraint Thomas and Richard Carapaz to join Geoghegan Hart in France. Having previously shown little interest in the Vuelta a España and following his gut-wrenching exclusion from the team at last year's Tour, 2018 champion Geraint Thomas will be determined to take the start line in France, with time running out for him to win a second Grand Tour. Geoghegan Hart admits it would be "a dream" to line up alongside Thomas in June, owing to his vast experience at the Tour throughout the years. It looks like Geoghegan Hart will go into the Tour as plan B alongside Carapaz, with Thomas being the team leader. This is unsurprising due to the nature of the course, as discussed by Brailsford:
"Given the time trialling, the nature of the climbing, the first week and the crosswinds, that element lends itself well to his skills and atrributes. On paper: it's a great Tour for Geraint."
Brailsford is clearly oozing with confidence for Thomas at the Tour this year
Acting as a plan B will not deter Geoghegan Hart who knows full well that things can soon change, having gone into the Giro as backup to Thomas before the Welshman hit a bidon and suffered a race-ending injury.
The pair, as well as Richard Carapaz, will be incredibly confident of regaining the maillot jeune for Ineos this year, with the team currently slated to include Thomas, Geoghegan Hart, Carapaz, Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis, whilst Brailsford admitted Bernal could double up with the Tour following the Giro. Add into the mix the trio of Luke Rowe, Jonathan Castroviejo and Michał Kwiatkowski, this potential lineup is possibly the strongest that the Tour de France has ever seen. Whilst 2020 went array for Ineos Grenadiers in France and saw the emergence of Jumbo Visma to take their place, albeit without winning the race, the British team will be more determined than ever to regain their crown and it would take a brave man or woman to bet against that team being beaten. With the unfortunate break to Tom Dumoulin's career, Jumbo Visma will go into the Tour with Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk, with Kruijswijk never having won a Grand Tour and now approaching 34. Meanwhile, Ineos will be lining up with the 2018 Tour de France champion (Thomas), the 2019 Giro d'Italia champion (Carapaz) and the 2020 Giro d'Italia champion (Geoghegan Hart). One would argue that Ineos Grenadiers are looking the stronger team than Jumbo Visma for this year's Tour, and will undoubtedly avoid the mistakes they made last year.
Thomas sprints his way to victory on Alpe d'Huez, a defining victory as he went on to win the 2018 Tour. © Getty Images
It will be fascinating to follow the team announcements for the Ineos Grenadiers over the coming months, after all, we have yet to even mention new signing Adam Yates, who will be leading the team at the Vuelta a España. Whether it be Thomas, Carapaz or another Grenadier alongside him in France, Geoghegan Hart is keeping his feet on the ground regarding his chances, as he hopes to be "another great card to play" for the team. As the reigning Giro d'Italia champion, there wouldn't be many cards better to play than Geoghegan Hart in the upcoming months, Dave Brailsford is a very lucky man.