Tao Geoghegan Hart has been crowned the new reigning champion of the Tour of Italy.
You could be forgiven for not knowing who Tao Geoghehan Hart is. He came to the Giro ostensibly to support Team Ineos Grenadiers’ more experienced leader Geraint Thomas, before Thomas crashed out in the roll out of stage three to Mount Etna having suffered an excruciating fall after hitting a stray water bottle.
Even after that, Geoghegan Hart rode under the radar for much of the race, with Ineos’ string of other stars attracting the attention with stage wins; notably the Italian Filippo Ganna who became the first man to win three time trials in a single Giro for 25 years. Indeed, Geoghegan Hart won the eternal trophy without ever wearing the maglia rosa leader’s jersey on the road.
Instead, he tore the jersey from the back of the Australian Team Sunweb rider Jai Hindley in the final stage, the third time trial of the race. Having finished 126th in the first of the three, back when he expected to be saving his energy in order to support Thomas, all eyes were now upon Geoghegan Hart, the man from London who grew up idolising his compatriot, Bradley Wiggins. There is little finer testament to his achievement under the spotlight than the usually loquacious Wiggins, who was left lost for words on Eurosport commentary duties. Having recorded a motivational message prior to the decisive stage, calling Geoghegan Hart a “legend”, his subsequent silence was one of stunned awe; he will know better than anyone that even when a first Grand Tour general classification victory is expected, when it comes it can be overwhelming. In winning the Giro D’Italia, Geoghegan Hart has achieved something his hero never could.
That it fell to Wiggins to promote Geoghegan Hart is fitting. Everyone concerned hurried to emphasise not just the 25 year old’s cycling ability – that is now self-evident – but his humbleness and humanity too. He is a fanatic in the true sense of the word; as a child, even when not actually riding, he worked in a bicycle shop at weekends. Geoghegan Hart was praised by both commentators and his boss, Sir David Brailsford, for his passion for the sport and his down-to-earth nature off the bike. Brailsford, hardly an easy man to impress – given his unparalleled success in cycling with Team GB, Sky and now Ineos – was unabashedly delighted in the post-race interviews. This is little surprise, though, given that Ineos won seven individual stages on the way to their overall win. He was as effervescent as the prosecco his newest British Grand Tour winner supped on the podium; victory must have tasted just as sweet for both Britons.
Amongst the stereotypical Italian glamour of the trophy presentation in Milan, Geoghegan Hart’s endearing personality was clear in its understated manner. He had won in imitable fashion, and it looks like he will celebrate his victory that way too. Yes, he glugged down the victor’s fizz with relish. But he also took time to pose for the cameras with his podium mates, the aforementioned Hindley and his Sunweb teammate Wilco Kelderman, both of whom had worn the pink jersey during the last week of the Tour, only for it to slip from the grasp of both. Teammates, managers, the media can all say complimentary things about a winner’s character. To show such compassion, however, when one could simply bask in the blinding lights of glory amidst Milanese fog is the true mark of a worthy champion. For staying true to oneself while achieving an incredible feat of physical performance against the expectations of many – chapeau, Tao Geoghegan Hart!
Geoghegan Hart’s victory has not occurred in a vacuum, though. As he bows on the podium, so arises Generation 2020 in the cycling world’s uppermost echelon. There are strong links to be drawn between the Giro’s new champion and the Tour de France winner, Tadej Pogocar. Neither man came into the respective races as favourites; neither had ever won a Grand Tour before, either. Both produced great showings in mountain stages that allowed them to take the initiative in defining time trials and seize greatness.
A mention here has to go to Joao Almeida, the rider who spent two weeks in the maglia rosa. The mental fortitude this took was further confirmed by Almeida’s courageous ride in the final time trial; despite losing his place even on the podium as he finally ceded pink in the Alps, the 22-year-old rallied on the final day to finish fourth in the time trial, making him the only true general classification rider to finish in the top ten on stage 21. Just as we might hope that Geoghegan Hart and Pogocar can consolidate their fantastic wins in years to come, and cement their status as icons of the sport, so we can expect to see Almeida compete for Grand Tour victories too.
Even the tragic character of the piece, the defeated Jai Hindley, has had a breakout year. Starting the Giro as a super-domestique for Kelderman, Hindley emerged as a team leader in his own right, and went into the final stage of the Giro exactly tied on time with the eventual winner, Geoghegan Hart. Such drama, such unexpected plotlines in Grand Tours – which have historically often been to some extent predictable during periods of dominance for riders like Lance Armstrong and teams like Sky and Ineos – make cycling fans the real winners in 2020.
Though it is a shame that crowd numbers have had to be limited due to coronavirus, there might not be such astonishing television coverage of a season of cycling again for a considerable period of time. And, let’s not forget, the Vuelta a Espana has not even finished.
So, like Geoghegan Hart and Pogocar on their podiums, drink in the spectacle. As a commentator once said of football – I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again.