Tao Geoghegan Hart was supposed to get his 2021 season up and running this week. Three months after his stunning victory at the Giro d’Italia, an achievement which made the 25-year-old from Hackney a household name overnight –albeit one no one could pronounce – he was due to line up at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. Inevitably, it fell victim to Covid at the 11th hour, joining several other races around the world on the postponed or cancelled list at the start of the 2021 season.
Geoghegan Hart is philosophical. “I was excited to race,” he says, speaking from his home in Andorra. “I’m feeling great. I was just coming to the end of a six-and-a-half hour training ride when I got the call. But I can’t complain. We’re lucky to be able to do what we do. And I think in sport and definitely in cycling you have to be adaptable. Nothing is set in stone.”
One thing is, in Geoghegan Hart’s mind at least. After much deliberation, he has decided he will not be returning to Italy in May to defend his Giro crown. He has set sights instead on a Tour de France-Olympic double this year.
It was not, he says, an easy decision. The honour of wearing the No 1 jersey at the Giro was not lost on Geoghegan Hart, a keen student of the sport. “I was pretty much 50-50 [between targeting the Giro and the Tour] because I think both would be really exciting,” says Geoghegan Hart, speaking for the first time about his race programme in 2021. “I love racing in Italy. I loved the experience of the Giro. And of course, it would be incredible to go back there this year with the No 1 jersey. I understand the significance of that. But I think as a bike racer, to put it bluntly, you can’t see the number on your back.
“Ultimately, I felt it I wanted to target something new and different. And yeah, the biggest race in cycling. I think there’s no argument there.”
It will be Geoghegan Hart’s first time at the Tour, assuming he is selected by Ineos, which of course will depend on form and fitness. He has a good chance, though, having made the decision with the blessing of Ineos principal Dave Brailsford.
Did they also discuss leadership? Geoghegan Hart is coy on the subject, as you would expect. Chris Froome may have exited stage left, but Ineos still have two Tour winners on their books in Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal. The latter is sizing up the Giro this year, but may double up at the Tour. Then there is 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz and the newly-signed Adam Yates, a fourth-place finisher at the Tour in 2016.
“We haven’t had that conversation,” Geoghegan Hart says. “And to be honest it’s not really a conversation I’m too interested in either. I think at the end of the day, the legs that you show, probably coming out of the [Critérium du] Dauphiné in June but even just at the start of the race, that’s what will decide [leadership].”
Geoghegan Hart is adamant, though, that he is capable of challenging the best in the world on the biggest stage in the world if he’s in his best condition. The Giro field last autumn may have been relatively thin given it was held back-to-back with the Tour, but the confidence gained from his exploits there, the way he rode, particularly in that third week when he did not put a foot wrong, have clearly given Geoghegan Hart huge reserves of self-belief.
“Yeah definitely,” he says when asked whether he feels he compete for yellow. “I think so. I think three-week racing really suits me physiologically. Especially that last week. I don’t think you’ll ever see me doing anything too interesting in the first week of a grand tour. But I think as it goes on, and as I showed in the Giro, I was there. And yeah, of course, I think with that race in mind, that does give me the confidence to dream about trying to challenge for the Tour.
“It doesn’t have to be this year,” he adds. “I think that’s a key point. I’m 25 years old and I’ve not ridden the Tour before. Yes, we’ve seen two guys in the last couple years win it at near enough their first attempt. But I think equally there’s a massive argument to be had for just going there full stop. And, you know, approaching the race also with the future in mind.”
With the trend towards teams going to grand tours with multiple leaders, Ineos are likely to head to France with a few options. Geoghegan Hart’s preference would clearly be to line up alongside Thomas again, as he did at the Giro, where the Welshman was the team’s Plan A before crashing out. He admits it would be “a dream to go with someone like that, who’s got so much experience, and of that race in particular”.
“But I’m not worrying about anyone else, or vying for leadership,” he adds. “I’m just hoping to be, what’s the right way of saying it… another great card to play. And part of that, I think, is that one of the biggest strengths of our team is to go in with a really strong squad. And then kind of work it out as the race unfolds.”
As far as the Olympics are concerned, Geoghegan Hart reckons it’s “50-50” as to whether the Giro or Tour provide the best preparation for what promises to be an absolutely gruelling race around Mount Fuji: 145 miles with more than 16,000 feet of elevation gain in hot, sticky conditions. He is just hoping to be selected for his first Games, assuming they go ahead of course.
“I’d love to be there. I think even if we are only four riders and other nations have an extra rider, we have potentially such a strong, strong team.
“We actually managed to get together in December for 24 hours of meetings and some equipment prep and stuff, which was great, up in Manchester. There’s 10 or so guys up for the four spots that we have. And there’s obviously incredible strength in depth in that group. I think there’s three grand tour winners, plus obviously Hugh [Carthy] who was on the Vuelta [a España] podium last year. It’s really exciting and a massive goal for me, I think it always has been kind of growing up especially within the British Cycling system. But yeah that’s a long way away. As I said before, we’re so lucky to do what we do. I’ve got friends who work in hospitals in London…”
For now the training continues. Geoghegan Hart should begin his season at the Tour de la Provence next week. “And then it starts with the big WorldTour races. In theory, I’ll be at Paris-Nice. But I think we just have to kind of go with the mindset of last summer, really, and just be adaptable.
“It’s all good and well sitting now in January-February talking about July. But that’s a long way away. There’s a lot could happen between now and then.”
Meanwhile, Brailsford said on Wednesday that new Ineos signing Adam Yates would target this year’s Vuelta a España.