Interview: Tao Geoghegan Hart on the Tour of California, riding for Team Sky and graduating to the WorldTour - Road Cycling UK

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Interview: Tao Geoghegan Hart on the Tour of California, riding for Team Sky and graduating to the WorldTour

Rising star Tao Geoghegan Hart talks to RoadCyclingUK

Tao Geoghegan Hart is not one for self praise.

Widely considered among the hottest prospects of a talented new generation of British riders (see also Hugh Carthy, Jon Dibben, Owain Doull et al), the 21-year-old might also be his harshest critic.

Take the Tour of California, where Geoghegan Hart finished 12th overall and second in the best young rider classification. His verdict when RoadCyclingUK talks to him on his return to London? “A little bit up and down” he says. “I struggled with the heat a little bit on the climbing day, and didn’t do as well as I’d aimed to, if I’m honest.”

Surely he must take pride in his performance on stage four, where he crossed the line fifth behind the world champion, Peter Sagan, into Laguna Seca? He concedes he “bounced back a little bit.”

Tao Geoghegan Hart has established himself as one of Great Britain’s leading young riders (Pic: Davey Wilson)

Good things come to those who wait

You wonder what would satisfy such a driven individual; one whose laconic tone strikes a sharp contrast with his results. But, beneath that driven exterior, Geoghegan Hart is patient. Growing up he had to be “the first to do something, or the quickest or the best,” and he credits Axel Merckx, general manager of the Axeon Hagens Berman under-23 team with whom he plies his trade, for helping him to take a longer view.

“Feeling that you’re ready is important. It’s a very different mentality to what I had when I was growing up, where I had to be first to do something, or the quickest or the best”

He is impressed by Merckx, son of the great Eddy, and by his team, one which has served as a finishing school to the likes of Movistar’s Alex Dowsett and BMC Racing’s Taylor Phinney.

“I spoke to Axel early in my last year as a junior and was impressed by how laid back he was in the way he approached me and made an offer for the next year,” says Geoghegan Hart. “The independence that he gives his riders really appeals to me.”

  • Palmares

  • Tour of California, 12th (2016)
  • Trofeo Piva, 1st (2016)
  • USA Pro Challenge, 7th (2015)
  • Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, 3rd (2015)
  • Tour of Britain, 15th (2014)

So what did Merckx and Axeon offer that other teams, or even British Cycling’s Academy, could not?

“”It’s not necessarily about what others can’t offer; it was more about opportunity to work with Axel and the variety of programme we have. It was a big draw: a lot of pro race days at a high level and also the opportunity to ride with the national team if I could. It only takes one glance at rosters from years past to see that lots of riders have found success in the past, and also to developed to the next level.”

Patience is an unusual virtue in a professional athlete, but Geoghegan Hart is in no hurry to reach the WorldTour, providing further evidence of his satisfaction with his current team, as well as his methodical progress towards his ultimate goal: a spot at cycling’s top table. Geoghegan Hart served as a stagiaire to Team Sky at the back-end of 2015, and there must be a host of teams in the top tier who would sign him tomorrow, but he opted for another year with Merckx.

“I’m hoping to have a long career,” Geoghegan Hart says. “Fifteen years from now is a long time. Staying mentally in the right place and taking things step by step and feeling that you’re ready is important.”

Tao Geoghegan Hart races through the Tour of the Gila TT.(Photo
Picture by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com - 14/09/2014 - Cycling - 2014 Friends Life Tour of Britain - Stage 8a, London Individual Time Trial - Great Britain Cycling Team's Tao Geoghegan Hart prepares to ride the Time Trial.

Crossing the pond

Geoghegan Hart has never taken the obvious route. His decision to join a team in the US when he is fêted at home is just one example. A smooth succession to British Cycling’s venerated Academy must have beckoned this graduate of the Talent Team and Olympic Development Programme. Instead, he accepted Merckx’s offer and headed Stateside.

It’s an arrangement which allows him to represent Great Britain in rounds of the UCI’s Nations Cup – a fiercely competitive series for under-23s – and, for the past two years, at the Tour of Britain, where Geoghegan Hart finished 15th overall in 2014.

“It’s a balancing act with the obligations that I have to my employer: the team and its sponsors,” he explains. “They get first call, as it were. But there are massive races at under-23 level, which are important to get a variety of experience, and I’ve been really lucky to do those with British Cycling.”

He praises Keith Lambert, a coach whose significant influence extends to both British Cycling’s Academy and the Dave Rayner Fund, a charity supporting young riders. Geoghegan Hart is Rayner funded, but concedes that as a member of a team with resources to “operate consistently on two continents”, he values a connection to the past as much as the charity’s financial support.

“There are massive races at under-23 level, which are important to get a variety of experience, and I’ve been really lucky to do those with British Cycling”

“I’m very fortunate to be a part of it and thankful for that link,” he says of the Rayner Fund.

“For example, Charly Wegelius [Cannondale Pro Cycling sports director] was on the flight back from California. The starting point of our conversation was that he was one of the first riders supported by the Rayner Fund. It’s that connection with the past that is important and special to me.”

Geoghegan Hart rides for the Axeon Hagens Berman under-23 team but also guests for British Cycling’s development squad (Pic: SWPix.com)

Apprenticeship

Inevitably, it is the future that is of the greatest interest when talking to a rider who last season guested with Team Sky at the Gran Piemonte and the Japan Cup. How does he remember the experience of riding for the biggest team in the sport?

“My team last year had 12 riders; this year it’s 16, but a big pro team has double that, and three times as many staff,” he says.

“It’s the whole experience of being a part of that, from small things like getting ready for a race on a team bus and wearing a kit that’s come to be iconic, to being able to travel out to Japan and have all these mad Team Sky fans cheering you on and enjoying the racing. It’s another one to add to the list.”

Having put in a string of strong performances at under-23, is the WorldTour the next step for Geoghegan Hart? (Pic: Davey Wilson)

Fellow Hackney tyro Alex Peters has already moved to Sky, and Doull will graduate from Team Wiggins next season after performing duties with Great Britain’s men’s team pursuit squad in Rio this summer. Geoghegan Hart, one suspects, will continue to plot his own course. The Yates brothers have proved at Orica-GreenEDGE that Sky is not the only employer for riders from these shores. In fact, the stock of British riders has never been higher.

“My generation is in a very, very lucky position whereby guys like Cavendish and Sir Bradley Wiggins and even further back, Chris Boardman, have set this trend that British riders are on the whole very professional and consistent with their performance,” says Geoghegan Hart.

We owe a lot to previous generations who forged that reputation [for British riders]

“The landscape has definitely changed in the last few years, just by the sheer number of high performing British pros – men and women. That can now be seen in the fact that British riders are turning pro, but also further down the ladder there are riders being picked up by amateur teams who are enthusiastic to have them. We owe a lot to previous generations who forged that reputation.”

Geoghegan Hart’s reputation is one built on tenets of intensity on the bike and intelligence off it. The British road race championships in Stockton-on-Tees beckon in a month’s time. The competition for the under-23 jersey is likely to be as ferocious as the battle for the senior title. And with both fields run together…well, who knows? A youthful national champion is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

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