By Seb Evans
On Stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia, Tao Geoghegan Hart stormed away from his breakaway companions to cruise to his first grand tour stage victory. In a season that has seen Ineos Grenadiers’ two main GC contenders, Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas, leave the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia early due to injury, it was a welcome reminder of the power in British cycling that lies behind the star names.
Geoghegan Hart looked in control for the entirety of the taxing 185km stage, which finished on the summit of Piancavallo, and he even had the energy and arrogance to taunt his rivals on the run in to the finish line.
Going into the final week, the Giro is as wide open as it has ever been, partly due to the abandonment of the two overwhelming pre-race favourites in Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates, but also due to the incredibly hard mountain stages to come, which mean any time gap below four minutes can still feasibly be recovered.
The emerging favourite to recover the gap to pink jersey wearer João Almeida is East London’s Geoghegan Hart, who Sir Bradley Wiggins described as a ‘geezer’ after his impressive showing on stage 15.
There certainly is a hint of cockney in Geoghegan Hart’s demeanour, as well as his confident riding style. He seems to be relishing the opportunity of a leadership role at a grand tour and shows no signs of being overawed by what he could achieve when the race reaches its finish in Milan on the 25th October.
Indeed, he is one of the most straight-talking riders you hear interviewed on the world tour, with no fear of giving his opinion. His backhanded comment towards the rest of the peloton when he claimed that Geraint Thomas would have ‘swept the floor with the rest of the race’ had he not crashed out in the neutral zone of stage three a fitting example of this.
The unlucky nature of Thomas’ fall – caused by a water bottle sliding under his front wheel – seemed to typify a season in which nothing has gone to plan for Team Ineos Grenadiers, winners of six out of the previous seven Tour de France’s leading into 2020, as well as two Vuelta a Españas and a Giro d’Italia courtesy of Chris Froome.
However, both at the Tour and now at the Giro, Ineos have shown their ability to adapt and have resorted to targeting stage wins with great success. After 16 stages of the Italy’s grand tour, Ineos have claimed six wins, and look in prime position to claim more with Geoghegan Hart’s climbing prowess.
Moreover, they have seen the emergence of World Time Trial champion Filipo Ganna as a possible future contender for grand tour success. His win on stage five was described as the ‘breakaway win of the century’ by Eurosport commentator Rob Hatch. While this is very lofty praise, it was an outstanding performance from the 24-year-old Italian, who has also won both time trials of the Giro to take his tally to three stage victories in the race.
Going into the final few stages of the race, 22-year-old João Almeida holds a 17-second advantage over Team Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman in the tussle for the maglia rosa, with Geoghegan Hart lying two minutes and 47 seconds behind. Almeida has shown remarkable grit and determination in his debut grand tour, and it would be a sensational start to his World Tour career if he was wearing pink as the race rolled into Milan on Sunday.
For that to become a reality, however, he will need to resist the rising star of Geoghegan Hart, who is more suited to the mountainous terrain that remains. Beyond the Ineos rider, there is also Keldermann and Jai Hindley of Team Sunweb, Pello Bilbao of Bahrain Maclaren, and of course the legendary Vincenzo Nibali within reach of Almeida.
The Portuguese rider will have to dig deeper than he ever has done before to stand a chance of defending his lead, but from what we have seen so far, there is no reason why he can’t do just that. The one time he has looked troubled was during on the ascent up to Piancavallo, when the trio of Kelderman, Hindley and Geoghegan Hart pulled away from him and built up a 37-second advantage at the finish line.
If that is a sign of things to come, Almeida may struggle, and the imperious manner in which Geoghegan Hart, Hindley and Kelderman cruised up the climb will be an ominous sign for the pink jersey. If Kelderman fails to deliver in the final four stages, it is likely to come down to a battle of the next generation, and Geoghegan Hart has already shown he is ready to lead the way.
Image: Fabio Ercolini via Creative Commons