Tao Geoghegan Hart has made history at the Giro d’Italia, becoming only the second British rider to win the famous race.
The 25 year-old from Hackney in east London, who rides for Ineos Grenadiers, finished 13th in the final day time trial in Milan. Crucially that was 39 seconds faster than Jai Hindley, his Australian rival with whom Geoghegan Hart began the day level on time.
The win produced emotional scenes at the finish line. After embracing his team mates and Ineos principal Sir Dave Brailsford, and kissing his girlfriend Hannah Barnes - also an elite rider - Geoghegan Hart spoke to Eurosport.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine this might be possible when we started in Sicily,” admitted the former Cycling Club Hackney rider, who had only won two stages of the Tour of the Alps as a pro before this Giro.
“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.”
Geoghegan Hart becomes only the second British rider to win the Giro after Chris Froome in 2018, and only the fifth British rider to win a grand tour - the name given to cycling’s three biggest stage races - after Froome, who has won seven in total, and Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates, who have all won one each.
It was a stunning win, not least because it was so unexpected.
Geoghegan Hart had not been among the favourites at the start of the race in Sicily three weeks ago. The 25 year-old’s role was strictly as a domestique for his team leader Geraint Thomas.
But after the Welshman collided 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 in the process, the landscape changed.
Even then Geoghegan Hart was still operating very much under the radar. Even after compatriot 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 Covid-19 positives forced Steven Kruijswijk to abandon, along with the entire Jumbo-Visma and Mitchelton-Scott teams.
It was only when he claimed a brilliant victory on stage 15 - his first in a grand tour and only his third as a professional - that Geoghegan Hart really came into serious contention, rocketing up to fourth overall. As long time leader Joao Almeida of Deceuninck-QuickStep faltered in the final week, the race opened up for him, becoming a two-way battle between Ineos and Sunweb.
It was two-versus-one in terms of GC contenders, with Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman and Hindley up against Geoghegan Hart, but Geoghegan Hart had a secret weapon in Australian Rohan Dennis who produced two barnstorming performances, first in the Queen stage on 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 of the race set up Sunday’s grandstand finish. It was the first time in grand tour history that the top two had begun the final competitive stage in a tie.
Hindley was the man in possession of the pink jersey, though, and had the honour of going last down the start ramp, as he was found to have covered the first 20 stages 0.86sec quicker than the Londoner.
Geoghegan Hart had begun the day in seemingly reflective mood.
“Sunday’s [sic] for me will always be playing football on the marshes and going to Brick Lane market with my old man & brother,” he tweeted.
“Today is just another Sunday. I haven’t seen my family in 10months, but they are always with me.”
And that attitude came through in his performance. Looking relaxed on the start ramp, he channelled his emotions brilliantly and was always ahead of Hindley, a 24 year-old with even less racing experience than Geoghegan Hart, in the race against the clock.
Ten seconds clear at 6.9km, the Londoner was over 30 seconds up as he approached the finish.
“I knew we must be in a pretty good situation when my DS [Matteo Tosatto] was screaming at me not to take any risks,” he recalled. “It’s not often they’re screaming at you to slow down in a 15km tt.”
It was the second grand tour in a row in which a rider has won the race on the last competitive day, after 21 year-old Tadej Pogacar destroyed fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic in the penultimate day time trial at last month’s Tour de France. And one of very few grand tours where the winner did not wear the leader’s jersey until after the final stage.
“It’s incredible,” he reflected. "I’m going to stay the same person. Stay professional, looking forward to riding my bike, loving life, and my partner and the privileged position I am in as a professional cyclist.”