“There was a guy over there asking me about pressure,” Tao Geoghegan Hart says, nodding to the far corner of a large conference room at the Hotel Diamante in Calpe. “At the end of the day, people don’t care if you don’t win a race for one-and-a-half or two years.”
Until last February, Geoghegan Hart hadn’t won a race for 28 months, not a single strike on the board since claiming the 2020 Giro d’Italia, his greatest triumph. “Look at what people are struggling with in the real world, on a day-to-day basis,” he continues. “We, sportspeople, are the most privileged people in the world to be able to do something that we love.”
The Londoner has had a lot of time to mull over the intricacies, nuances and the point of cycling in the past six months. Ever since mid-May, he has been in rehab, recovering from a fractured femur that he suffered at the 2023 Giro when sitting third overall.
“Sportspeople are not robots,” he adds. “We’re humans. There are a million and one other things happening in an athlete’s life. We put so much into it. Whether that’s time away from the family, or the literal time every day on the bike. We want to make the most of it. Many times you put so much into it, but get nothing from it. We say we sacrifice but I don’t like that word. There are always ups and downs, that’s the reality of the world.”
Peaks and troughs have very much characterised the Briton’s career. Heralded as a potential successor to Bradley Wiggins, his idol, he came good on his promise by winning the autumn Giro of 2020. But it took him another two-years-and-a-half to win again, a stage victory at February’s Volta a Valenciana kickstarting a stunning return to form, with two stages and the GC subsequently following at the Tour of Alps.
Geoghegan Hart was in the form of his life at the Giro d'Italia (Zak Williams/SWPix)
Then the crash at the Giro happened. “I knew immediately what I’d done,” he reflects. “It was unequivocal. I never had any ambiguity.” But it must have been gut wrenching for a freak fall to end what was seen as a realistic chance of winning a second maglia rosa? “It doesn’t hurt me. I could go down that rabbit hole, but I try not to reflect on it too much.”
He does, though, agree that it was his best ever form. “It was hard not to realise that form. Maybe not the result, but to really push my limit, to find out exactly where I was. It was much further than I have ever been before.” He had parachuted himself from a top-10 contender to a genuine favourite in the space of three months. “I don’t think I had the full chance to show my form last year,” he says. “I was always holding back, in [the Tour of the] Alps and Giro especially.”
By the time the Giro was underway, he had already agreed terms on a three-year contract with Lidl-Trek, ending a seven-year association with Ineos Grenadiers. “I have a big history [with Ineos],” he points out. “I first did a training camp with them in 2014, and I was there when Team Sky launched in central London when I was 14. It was hard to leave.”
But there are no regrets. “In the professional world, people are moving around all the time. Every team is moving forward, no one is looking over their shoulder. Everyone is looking for the next rider, goal, races, sponsors, always moving forward.”
This perspective kept him sane during his rehabilitation process that he mostly undertook in Amsterdam. There were days, he admits, “when I couldn’t do anything. So tiring, fatiguing”, he adds. But, overall, it went to plan. “I expected some big setbacks, some sort of pain with the knees or somewhere else, but so far everything is great.” Not even 70cm of titanium in his femur aggravates him - although it will remain there for another 11 months. “I don’t feel it - and, no, it doesn’t set off the airport scanners,” he laughs.
“Those days gave me a lot of time to think,” he goes on. “The nature of who I am, and it’s the same for most athletes, is that you want to have a plan, to understand the process. It was much more tiring and intense than normal training and racing. I was away from the world I have inhabited for the past 10 years for 11 months a year, and I made the most of that.”
Galleries, museums, Brompton rides, and spending time with other athletes filled his days. “Our lives are incredibly hard to explain to anyone from another sport,” he continues. “I was in rehab with footballers, people from hockey, tennis, athletics, and whether they thought they knew something or nothing about cycling, they actually knew zero about it. They couldn’t believe that we train with competitors, and then the next race we’re fighting with the very same person in a race. It's a beautiful sport, cycling, very unique.”
He will return to racing at February’s Volta a Algarve, part of what he expects to be a “traditional” run-up to July’s Tour de France. In his only previous appearance at the Tour, in 2021, he was one of four Ineos Grenadiers riders going for GC at the outset, but he finished 60th.
The Briton says he's ready to improve on where he left off before his injury (Zak Williams/SWPix)
How is his condition post-injury? “I am much better than expected,” he assesses. “One of the big things with the Algarve is that there’ll be a time trial straight away. I want to do as many TTs as possible, especially with the new equipment, procedures, and staff. I’ll look to start well, have a good break, hold that [into the Tour]. Getting stuck into races, and good, clean training blocks is the idea.”
Three weeks atop Mount Teide or Sierra Nevada excites him. “I was discussing with my coach yesterday that training camps are really important to me because they pull people into the goals of the team,” he says. “Even picking where to stay, you want somewhere with a common space to play board games, cards, enjoy the time together, not just be jumping on FaceTime in the room.”
Twenty-nine in March, Geoghegan Hart is entering the supposed peak of his career. He’s elevated his standing after a barren few years, and is his new team’s GC poster boy. He won’t entertain questions about pressure and expectation, but he will approach his new chapter with a refined philosophy, acutely aware of the privilege afforded to him in being a professional sportsperson, and a desire to get as much out of it as he can. “I enjoy the process of getting better, “ he says. “I was proud of how I was going at the Giro. It’s about getting back to the level I was at before, trying to improve. I’m excited to get there again.”
Cover image by Getty Images