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Geraint Thomas has crashed out, Simon Yates has left the race due to coronavirus, and Chris Froome is at the Vuelta a España. And so 25-year-old Tao Geoghegan Hart has landed himself the position of the new British hope at the Giro d’Italia.
Having come into the race to support Thomas in his GC bid, the Londoner is now sitting in fourth overall almost by accident. Having ridden aggressively all race in the fight for stage wins, Geoghegan Hart topped Sunweb duo Wilco Kelderman and Jai Hindley in the final kilometer of the tough climb to Piancavallo on Sunday to take another race win for his team.
And all of a sudden, he’s now one second off the podium.
“Once we lost Geraint, we had to change our plan,” said Geoghegan Hart’s teammate Ben Swift on Tuesday. “We knew Tao was really strong, but we didn’t know he was going to be as strong as he is.”
Having gotten off to a slow start with 60th on the opening time trial in Sicily, Geoghegan Hart has quietly but confidently risen up the GC ranks, jumping into the top-15 after a strong ride to Roccaraso on stage 9 and continuing the upward trajectory from there. He now sits less than three minutes from the pink jersey.
“It’s not something I care to think about at all right now,” Geoghegan Hart said when asked if he was going to go all-in for GC after he moved into fourth overall.
Ineos has engaged stage-hunting mode since the loss of Thomas, with Geoghegan Hart’s victory his team’s fifth of the race. The team insists that’s the way they’ll continue to go in the Giro’s tough final week through the mountains.
“Nothing has changed,” Geoghegan Hart said. “We’re here to race.”
Geoghegan Hart, one of a number of graduates from the Hagens Berman Axeon team at this year’s Giro, has always shown the potential. The Brit’s palmarès so far include a number of top-6 finishes in week-long races and a second-place behind Sepp Kuss on the mountainous 15th stage of last year’s Vuelta. However, riding on a team with four grand tour winners on its roster means he has often been pushed down the start sheet to act as a super domestique in three-week races.
Now could be his big chance
“I think to win on a climb like that, it was the hardest finish that we’ve had,” Swift said of his teammate’s ride to Piancavallo. “It was a really hard day, but he’s shown that he has got the legs to be with the best of the riders.”
Tuesday’s hilly stage into San Danieli del Friuli packs a number of short sharp climbs and tough uphill finish straight. It could prove an opportunity for Ineos Grenadiers to take their sixth stage win with Geoghegan Hart – and with it, a step on the GC podium.
“We’ll keep doing what we’re doing, and if Tao can move up, that’ll be even better,” Swift said Tuesday morning. “Today, we’ll take it on, we’ll race, we’ll see what the situation is.”