One moment stood out for me at the end of this year’s bizarre cycling season more than any other. And it’s a decidedly odd choice, admittedly.
It was a post-race interview, those painfully formulaic pieces to camera where the same old questions are trotted out and, correspondingly, the same old answers are given. And I wasn’t even there, but on the sofa in south London.
It was the masked interrogator’s final gambit aimed at a masked man after the final stage of a topsy-turvy Giro d’Italia that, despite unpromising beginnings, ended with a cliffhanging finale.
“Remember, you came here as a team-mate of Geraint Thomas,” our man with the microphone began, laying the groundwork for his pièce de résistance. “Is this the start of a very, very big career?”
Tao Geoghegan Hart – for it was he – fired straight back: “I don’t know and I don’t care,” before the media training kicked back in and a more considered generic response gave some context to his bold starter.
What a line!
“I don’t know and I don’t care!”
Joyous. In the moment. Soaking up the good times which, let’s face it, are few and far between for a professional cyclist, even the very best of them. Did the interviewer really think the Maglia Rosa would be throwing his hat in the ring for Ineos team leadership and world domination within minutes of the highpoint of Tao’s career?
This young man from Hackney had, via a smattering of happenstance, a soupcon of others’ misfortune and, lest we forget, years of graft and dedication to his profession, become a Grand Tour winner.
TGH rode like a TGV and kept his head when all about him were losing theirs. The fella stayed cool, calm collected, and let the road decide. It was a joyous end.
I was reminded of one of the first times I met him. It was some kind of launch at the Rapha café in Soho. Tao would have been 18 or 19, whippet thin, all elbows and longshanks. He was deep in conversation with Simon Mottram, Rapha’s founder, and seemingly arguing the toss with the boss, gesticulating pointedly and becoming decidedly animated. I moved in for an earwig, obviously. This looked juicy.
One of London's glories (Photo credit: Sean Hardy)
At the core of this disagreement, I quickly ascertained, was Rapha’s continued use of imagery and historic quotes related to doping offenders from the murky past of the sport, Marco Pantani in particular.
Fascinating, I thought, closing in on the ding-dong.
Tao, mid-sentence and without so much as pausing for breath, suddenly switched the focus of his ire and pointed a long finger in my direction.
“And you and your magazine are just as bad,” he said, with feeling.
I don’t recall the rest of the conversation, but it was intriguing. A teenager was taking on two respected (well, Simon anyway) members of the cycling scene and giving as good as he got, maybe even getting the upper hand.
I asked Tao afterwards if he fancied writing that point of view down for the magazine. We’d gladly publish it. He declined, unsurprisingly, but I never forgot that moment on the occasions our paths have crossed since.
He can be spiky for sure. But he can also be utterly charming, excellent company, cool as a cucumber and, importantly, cares deeply about this sport he has striven to make a career in since bunking off school and tagging along at the Team Sky launch in London back in 2010. He is passionate about inclusivity and equality, and not just because it is seen as the right thing to do. It’s in his Hackney DNA.
Oh, and he’s quite good at bike racing, too.
So, “I don’t know and I don’t care?”
He does. And he does.
Crack on, Tao.