Giro d'Italia

Tao Geoghegan Hart on Giro d’Italia GC bid: ‘It’s really unexpected’

The young British rider started the race as a chief lieutenant for Geraint Thomas, and after the explosive stage 18, he is on the shortest list of contenders to win the overall.

Opportunity has come a knockin’ for Tao Geoghegan Hart at the 2020 Giro d’Italia.

The young British rider started the race as a chief lieutenant for Ineos Grenadiers to help Geraint Thomas fight for the pink jersey. Now, after Thursday’s explosive stage 18 to Laghi di Cancano, Geoghegan Hart is on the shortest list of contenders to win the overall.

Geoghegan Hart dropped current race leader Wilco Kelderman on the Passo Stelvio and then powered ahead with Sunweb’s Jai Hindley to the final climb, where Hindley ultimately pipped him in the sprint to win the stage. But Geoghegan Hart took a huge step toward the Giro’s pink jersey. He started the day 2:59 in arrears and is now just 15 seconds out of the race lead.

“It’s really unexpected, especially if you look at how the first days of the race were,” Geoghegan Hart said after the stage. “I was pretty far behind after a few stages, so I’m happy. It’s pretty unexpected, to be honest. We can almost smell Milan now.”

The rally for pink came on the Giro’s toughest stage, which featured the brutal ascent of the Stelvio followed by the climb to Lago di Cancano. Ineos Grenadiers was one of the more aggressive squads on the stage, with Filippo Ganna and Ben Swift attacking into the day’s breakaway, and then attacking again after that break was caught. The two pushed ahead to the base of the Stelvio, as behind, Team Sunweb powered the GC group ahead in an attempt to vault Kelderman into pink.

“We didn’t really have a specific game plan going into the stage, other than to get one or two riders up the road, and it was a pretty tricky start but we achieved our first primary goal with Swifty and Filippo,” Geoghegan Hart said. “It was super impressive to see.”

The hulking Stelvio is among the longest and highest climbs in European cycling, rising 1,800 meters (5,905 feet) over 24 kilometers. Team Sunweb set the pace early, with its top climbing domestiques Sam Ooman, Chris Hamilton, and Martijn Tusveld powering at the front of the peloton. The pace quickly shredded the front group of GC favorites, with race leader João Almeida (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) falling away early, with Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), and others falling away by the climb’s midpoint.

But it was then that Ineos Grenadiers played its next card. Australian TT ace Rohan Dennis took the front and began setting a punishing tempo up the climb, pedaling a low cadence on the steep ramps. The pace was too much for Kelderman, Sunweb’s leader, who fell away, while Geoghegan Hart and Hindley rode on ahead.

“Rohan basically rode 99 percent of the race off his wheel, so that was super impressive,” Geoghegan Hart said, adding, “I can only really thank my teammates. I didn’t do much in the end, it was 90 percent them I’d say.”

Dennis continued to ride down the descent, as Geoghegan Hart and Hindley followed, setting up a two-up fight for the stage win. After Dennis peeled away at the base of the final climb Geoghegan Hart took the front, as Hindley refused to work, later admitting that his squad told him to not contribute to the pace-setting.

Kelderman tried to narrow the gap to the two, while Geoghegan Hart had two goals to juggle: the stage win and time on GC. In the end, he chose to ride to the finish, which allowed Hindley to save his legs and beat him in the sprint.

Cameras caught sight of Geoghegan Hart speaking to Hindley on the climb. At the finish, he shook his head in disappointment as he crossed the line. After the stage, Geoghegan Hart had a diplomatic perspective on the racing dynamics.

“It was kind of tricky to know how the situation was behind, and how everything would be after such a hard stage,” Geoghegan Hart said. “Congrats to [Hindley]. He’s a super nice guy — friend of mine. I think in hindsight it was a pretty crazy stage and we started out to take time and we did that.”

With his strengths as a climber and individual time trialist, Geoghegan Hart now has a clear pathway to seize the Giro d’Italia overall. While Sunweb controls the jersey with Kelderman, Thursday’s stage showed that the Dutchman is not as strong as he’d like to be on the soaring climbs. Hindley, meanwhile, is a strong climber who is not quite as skilled as his teammate in the individual time trial.

If Geoghegan Hart can drop Kelderman on Saturday’s mountainous stage 20 to Sestriere, and then beat Hindley in Sunday’s individual time trial into Milan, the Giro’s top prize could be his.

Such a result would mark a milestone for both Geoghegan Hart and Team Ineos. The British squad is in the midst of a generational shift, with veterans like Froome and Thomas fading into the background as younger stars Richard Carapaz, Ivan Sosa, and Geoghegan Hart come to the fore. Winning the Giro — even finishing on the podium — would boost Geoghegan Hart’s stature within the team and amongst British cycling fans.

Such a result is easier said than done, of course, and right now the British rider is taking things one goal at a time.

“We can almost smell Milan now,” he said. “Stay focused and see what happens.”