Scottish cyclist enjoying the limelight after breakthrough Alps wins
He is a modern day mongrel, a mix of Scottish/Irish and East Ender ancestry and proud of it. Father Tom Geoghan was born in Scotland, with a mixed Irish/Scots heritage, and his gran still lives in Edinburgh.
Why does this matter? Because cyclist Tao Geoghegan Hart has become hot property after winning two of the five stages of the Tour of the Alps in the last week of April.
He did so in some style, displaying bottomless reserves of stamina and unexpected speed – the two things rarely go hand in hand – to drop Chris Froome on the mountains before out-sprinting everyone else, including Italian superstar Vincenzo Nibali, to secure his first and second victories in adult cycling. This is the stuff of dreams, literally speaking – did he pinch himself after crossing the line?
“I guess so,” he says from his London home. “In the end you can only beat who is there and a win is a win in some ways.
“When you do get those wins in front of big names it does mean a lot. Maybe it doesn’t mean more to you but it certainly resonates more with other people, within or outwith cycling.
“It kind of goes to show that when you have got the legs it becomes… simple is the wrong word, but when the first one comes around the second one is maybe a little bit easier.
“It shows that having the belief and opportunity is probably the most important thing. Often we have so many big names that you don’t get chances like that super often so it was all about making the most of it.”
We talk about the embarrassment of riches on offer at the newly rebranded Team Ineos but the Scot refutes any allegation that he may be forced to move elsewhere to get the coveted status of protected rider given the competition in a team that is a Who’s Who of modern cycling. Many have moved on, Richie Porte and Mikel Landa the obvious examples, but without gaining the success they sought.
“If you are good enough, you are good enough,” Geoghegan Hart argues with unerring logic.
“There is always that thing of talking about opportunities. If you have the legs in this team to make a big result you will get the chances. If you have good legs in this team you get all the support that you could wish for. At this moment in time I don’t see a scenario when I would need to leave the team to get those chances.”
One of those chances starts next Saturday when the first of the Grand Tours, the Giro d’Italia, gets under way. Ineos have yet to announce their lineup but Geoghegan Hart admits that the Giro is his big goal of the year so we will presumably see the Scot ride, although Ineos’ plans were thrown into turmoil yesterday when their young superstar, Colombian Egan Bernal, broke his collarbone in a training crash.
These are just two of umpteen hungry and talented young riders who are elbowing their way to the top of a sport traditionally dominated by age. The current road race World Champions Alejando Valverde is 39 and Geraint Thomas won his first Grand Tour last year aged 32.
Just 24 himself, Geoghegan Hart helped his 21-year-old team-mate Pavel Sivakov to the Tour of the Alps overall title and last year’s podium at the Vuelta d’Espana all have their best years ahead of them; Simon Yates (then 26 years old), Enric Mas (23) and Angel Miguel Lopez (24). Are we seeing, I ask, a changing of the guard at the top of cycling?
“No, I don’t think that is the right expression,” argues the Scot. “You are always going to see these young riders coming through and everyone does it in different moments but in the end a changing of the guard?...I think it’s more of a transition. A few old guys will retire and you see those young guys coming up.
“For whatever reason,” he eventually concedes, “you see more and more young guys prosper at a young age.”
Modern cycling is dominated by numbers, especially the readings from the ubiquitous power metres which some believe have sucked any remaining romance from the soul of the sport.
But despite the intrusion of big data into cycling, it is refreshing to see one man declare himself, well, agnostic at best.
“In the end, I am a big believer in that fact that all the technology, all the metrics and the advances are just a small part of the puzzle,” says Geoghegan Hart. “You have to be much more holistic with that especially if you want to be performing on a high level for a long time.
“Cycling is,” he pauses to gather his thoughts, “…dangerous is the wrong word, but you can definitely drown yourself in different metrics and numbers, there are so many available in this sport, more so than many others.
“You just have to see how you feel on the day and on that first day [in the Alps] I felt amazing and I thought, ‘right, this is a big chance for you, this is a good moment to see what you can do’ and it played out perfectly.”
He called those twin wins a “validation… a small step in a lengthy process” and on that score he is surely right with more to come from the Scot as he gets older and stronger.
Physiologically speaking, he concedes he is suited to three-week racing but argues against being pigeon holed as a Grand Tour racer, happy to compete in the one-day races – he competed in Liege-Bastogne-Liege last Sunday, after one day’s rest – and that was spent training.
Perhaps surpringly he also declares his love of multi-event games after attending a Junior Olympic Games as a teen.
Scotland selected him for the last two Commonwealth Games, but he failed to find time in his race schedule to appear in either – “I would have loved Glasgow” – so he is now targeting Birmingham in 2022. After his recent success, will it still be in Scotland’s colours?
“Yeah, yeah, definitely,” he replies with unforced enthusiasm. “I tried to get some kit off [Scottish cyclist] Mark Stewart but he flicked me off! I will have to turn up to get some!
“My dad is Scottish, he was born there. His parents were a Celtic mix of Scottish and Irish. I grew up in Hackney.
“In the modern day world no one is one thing, I quite like that about the world. I am proud to be a mongrel, I think it’s a good thing.
“I love going there [Scotland], whether it’s to see my gran in Edinburgh or I’ve been there with the Tour of Britain a few times or just to be on holiday.
“I definitely feel strong roots to both my Irish and Scottish ancestry.”