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Tao Geoghegan Hart: Back to square one

The Ineos Grenadiers rising star is looking ahead to this season, not into the rearview mirror of last year.

When one speaks with British rider Tao Geoghegan Hart, it is as if little has changed. Like every year since he turned professional, 2021 is the start of a new season for the 25-year-old British rider. Once again, he is focused on the task at hand-building his early-season condition. And he was relaxed as he eased into his first race of the year at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var just last week, as he set his sites on his first major objective, Paris-Nice, which starts this Sunday.

But wait a minute! How could nothing change for the Ineos Grenadiers standout who stunned the world last year with his victory in the Giro d’Italia?

“People are still coming up and congratulating me for my Giro victory. But I don’t like that so much. It’s in the past,” Geoghegan Hart said at the start of the final stage in the town of Blausasc, just a few kilometers from Nice. “Of course, I appreciate it, but really I want to focus on the racing today. And once today is finished, look to next week and the weeks to come.”

Tao Geoghegan Hart at the 2021 Tour du Haut Var. Photo: James Startt

Indeed for those that follow Geoghegan Hart, they understand that, despite the fact that he has long been hailed as one of the most talented riders of his generation, the Londoner needs to keep things real. Over the winter, the Geoghegan Hart could not have been happier than to simply spend time at home connecting with family and friends.

“November in London was pretty quiet. It was lockdown in London,” Geoghegan Hart said. “But it was great to step out of this world and see the family, and I was able to go back after our training camp in December and spend Christmas with the family as well.”

Travel between England and Europe of course has been complicated not only by COVID-19, but also new restrictions imposed by Brexit. Little matter, reconnecting was a priority. “I have done 60 PCR tests already. More than one-a-week.”

But victory in the Giro — like the holiday season — is now clearly a thing of the past. And Geoghegan Hart came to his first race simply focused on getting the rhythm of racing back in his legs. “I think you start every season on zero. The bunch is as motivated as ever for results if not more. Everything means more and more in this sport and smaller things, smaller races, are becoming more and more significant. Look at the riders and teams that are here at this race. How many big riders and big teams are here? No, you start every season on square one. But that’s motivating.”

Geoghegan Hart admitted that he was not at his best at this three-day race that raced through the picturesque and rugged hills of France’s Côte d’Azur. But he clearly got better with each stage, making the breakaway on the final stage to finish second.

And now with the first race under in his legs, he is already looking toward his next objective, Paris-Nice where he will lead the team along with new recruit and a two-time winner Richie Porte.

Geoghegan Hart said he was not quite on-form at the Tour du Haut Var despite a podium finish on the final stage. Photo: James Startt

Geoghegan Hart might like to pretend that little has changed since he entered the elite club of grand tour winners, but he knows that it is unrealistic. “Yes of course,” he admits when asked whether victory in the Giro has altered his career goals and perspective. “I don’t think it is possible any longer to not think about big objectives every year, with that in the past,” he said “Certainly, when it comes to grand tours.”

And this year such ambitions will meet new tests as he will not defend his Tour of Italy title but instead will start the Tour de France alongside 2018 winner Geraint Thomas. It will be his first start in the great French race. Once again Geoghegan Hart will be back at square one. But he promises to be plenty motivated.