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AFP
October 27, 2020

Geoghegan Hart, from Channel swimmer to coffee-loving Giro winner

Sports

AFP
October 27, 2020

MILAN: Tao Geoghegan Hart, who once played truant to see Sky’s launch, on Sunday became the renamed team’s latest major tour winner when he seized his opportunity in the closing time trial at the Giro d’Italia.

“It’s incredible! It was impossible for me to even think about winning the Giro when we started in Sicily,” said the 25-year-old who started the race working for former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas.

Thomas crashed in the third stage, and Geoghegan Hart, a Londoner with Scottish and Irish roots, became the fifth Briton to win a major tour and the second to win the Giro, following Chris Froome in 2018.

All 12 British triumphs have come since 2011. Sunday’s was the 11th in the colours of the team now known as Ineos. When it was launched, as Sky in 2010, with Brad Wiggins as the star, Geoghegan Hart, a schoolboy from Hackney in east London, turned up to watch.

“When we first started the team Tao took a day off school,” recalled Ineos principal Dave Brailsford. “I say ‘took a day off school’ but bunked off school and came along to watch Brad and the guys when they launched the team.” “He rode behind Brad, it’s a story he likes to tell.”

“It was his dream to be a pro bike rider, coming into the team, and he’s gone and won a Grand Tour. It’s the stuff of comic books.” With his good looks, reddish hair, relaxed nature and easy banter he most resembles Wiggins, another Londoner and Sky’s Tour de France groundbreaker.

Wiggins and Thomas sent messages of advice and support ahead of Sunday’s stage. “Those are guys I’ve looked up to near enough half my life. They’re the ones that have inspired me to get here,” Geoghegan Hart told the Ineos web site after his victory.

He is passionate about coffee. His web page has a photo of the gear he takes with him: bags of beans, scales, press, grinder, dripper, filters, jugs, kettle with adaptor plug and a mug, “of course”.

On Sunday, after his triumph, he insisted the coffee would still smell the same. “I’m going to stay the same person,” he said. “Wake up every day looking forward to riding my bike, loving my life and being grateful for the amazing position, the privilege, that I’m in to be in this team and at these races.”

The son of a builder and the eldest of five siblings, Geoghegan Hart tried team sports such as football. At 13, was the youngest member of a six-person relay team from a local club that swum the English Channel.

“He came to us through soccer and swimming; he liked the idea of cycling because he was fed up of other people letting him down, and cycling is a sport where it’s largely down to the individual,” Hackney Cycling Club coach Keir Apperley told The Guardian.

Geoghegan Hart worked on Saturdays at a well-known London bike shop, Condor which also supported his racings. “You knew there was something special about him even then, he was super motivated and focused,” Greg Needham of Condor told the Guardian.

When Geoghegan Hart became a full-time cyclist, he rode for a development team run by former Belgian rider Axel Merckx, a great talent breeder. He joined Sky in 2017 as a trainee. He moved to Girona in Spain, a popular base for cyclists.

In 2018 he rode his first big tour, the Vuelta. Last year, he was part of the victorious Ineos team at the Giro but crashed and broke a collarbone on the 13th stage. Even so, he developed a taste for the race. “I really liked the Giro”, he said earlier this year. “There are a lot more opportunities than in the Tour de France.” That opportunity arrived this year. Geoghegan Hart grabbed it.