Tao Geoghegan Hart: How the boy from Hackney became an overnight sensation

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Tao Geoghegan Hart wasn't even close to being one of the favourites to win the Giro d'Italia at the start of the famous tour, three weeks ago - AP
Tao Geoghegan Hart wasn't even close to being one of the favourites to win the Giro d'Italia at the start of the famous tour, three weeks ago - AP

He began the day recalling how he used to spend his Sundays kicking a ball around Hackney Marshes and going to Brick Lane Market with his brother and father. “Today is just another Sunday,” Tao Geoghegan Hart wrote in a tweet posted on Sunday morning, about five hours before his life changed forever. “I haven’t seen my family in 10 months, but they are always with me.” 

Geoghegan Hart will wake up on Monday, look over at his pink jersey - assuming he did not wear it to bed - and remember he did not just dream it. This was not ‘just another Sunday’. He really did win the Giro d’Italia.

The boy who grew up on the Nightingale Estate next to Hackney Downs, who bunked off school in Stoke Newington as a 14 year-old to attend the launch of Team Sky, who had only won a couple of pro races before this month, has joined the likes of Alfredo Binda, Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx in winning La Corsa Rosa. 

It was no wonder he was so emotional at the finish. After embracing his team mates and his girlfriend, the Canyon-SRAM rider Hannah Barnes, who initially forgot to take off her facemask to plant a smooch on her man, Geoghegan Hart tried to sum up how he was feeling. 

“Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine this might be possible when we started in Sicily [three weeks ago],” admitted the former Cycling Club Hackney rider. “All my career I have dreamt of being top five or top 10 in a race of this stature. I think it’s going to take a long time to sink in.”

This was a stunning win, precisely because it was so unexpected, so surreal. Geoghegan Hart had not been among the favourites at the start of the race in Sicily three weeks ago. Not even close.

The 25 year-old’s role was strictly as a domestique for his team leader Geraint Thomas.  Even after Thomas collided with a stray bidon which had worked its way loose from a rival’s bottle cage in the neutral zone on stage three, crashing hard and fracturing his pelvis, Geoghegan Hart was still operating very much under the radar. Even after Simon Yates, another of the big pre-race favourites, tested positive for Covid-19 before stage eight and was forced to abandon. Even after further positives led to Steven Kruijswijk pulling out, along with the entire Jumbo-Visma and Mitchelton-Scott teams, no one was speaking about the Londoner. It was only when Geoghegan Hart claimed a brilliant victory on stage 15 - his first in a grand tour - that he suddenly came into serious contention, rocketing from 11th up to fourth overall.

The final week, as long-time leader Joao Almeida of Deceuninck-QuickStep faltered, played out like a dream, the race opening up for Geoghegan Hart, becoming a two-way battle between Ineos and Sunweb. It was two-versus-one, with Wilco Kelderman and Jai Hindley up against the Londoner. 

But Geoghegan Hart had a secret weapon in Australian Rohan Dennis who produced two absolutely barnstorming performances, first in the Queen stage last Thursday where he blew the race apart on the Stelvio, and then on the road to Sestriere on Saturday where Geoghegan Hart’s second stage win set up Sunday’s grandstand finish.

Geoghegan Hart was always the favourite. His tweet on Sunday morning about playing football on Hackney Marshes, followed by a retweet of the front page of a Sunday newspaper which led on Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals, said a lot, not only about his state of mind, but about Geoghegan Hart as a man. Calm, composed, thoughtful. 

Tao Geoghegan Hart has fulfilled a life-long dream by winning a grand tour - GETTY IMAGES
Tao Geoghegan Hart has fulfilled a life-long dream by winning a grand tour - GETTY IMAGES

It translated in his performance. Ten seconds clear at 6.9km, Geoghegan Hart was over 30 seconds up on the splits as he approached the finish line. “I knew we must be in a pretty good situation when Toso [sporting director Matteo Tosatto] was screaming at me [in his earpiece] not to take any risks,” he later recalled.

It was hard not to feel for Hindley, the 24 year-old from Perth in Western Australia for whom the Cinderella narrative would equally have applied. But this was Geoghegan Hart’s day. 

One of the most pleasing things about it was what it said about cycling in this country, the hope that this win will give to others. Geoghegan Hart was not an Olympic gold medallist. He was not a household name (his name, in fact, was a problem all last week for newcomers to cycling. For the record ‘Tao’ is pronounced ‘Tayo’, and ‘Geoghegan’ pronounced ‘Gaygan’, and he is of Scottish-Irish descent, Tao meaning Tom, which is his father’s name, in Irish Gaelic).

He is a Cycling Club Hackney rider who served his time racing midweek at the Crystal Palace velodrome, who profited from Dave Rayner funding, then progressed through the British Cycling talent pathway before spending a couple of years with Axel Merckx’s Bissell Development Team. He is a normal guy who has just become a superstar. 

"It's incredible. But I’m going to stay the same person,” he vowed. “Stay as professional as I believe I always have been. I’m going to wake up every day looking forward to riding my bike, loving my life, and being grateful for my partner and the amazing privileged position I am in to be in this team and at these beautiful races.” 

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