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Q&A: Tao Geoghegan Hart

25 Oct 2020

We spoke to Team Ineos Grenadiers's latest Grand Tour contender back when he first signed for what was then Team Sky in 2017. This article was first published in Cyclist magazine in April 2017

Words: James Witts Photography: Juan Trujillo Andrades

Cyclist: Tao, you rode for Sky as a stagiaire in 2015 but a full-time contract didn’t materialise until now. How come?

Tao Geoghegan Hart: There was strong interest from the team but I wanted another year at under-23s. Why? The most polite way of putting it is that I didn’t win a race in 2015 and felt that was something I had to do before turning professional.

That said, my final year with Axel [Merckx’s UCI Continental team Axeon Hagens Berman] also provided me with opportunities to race at the highest level, competing at the Tour of California [where he finished as second-best young rider] and the Tour of Britain. It proved a great learning curve.

Cyc: Did it feel strange when you first started racing in the same events as guys like Sir Bradley Wiggins?

TGH: Maybe a little bit beforehand, but when you get into a race everyone is there to race so it becomes less and less strange. If you spend too much time thinking about it, it won’t go well.

But, yes, it is special and I have never lost that feeling. I appreciate big-name riders, and what they have done is always there. But the more races I do, the more normal it seems.

Cyc: Have you specific goals this season?

TGH: Something I’ve learned from British Cycling is that it’s more profitable when goals are more controllable than when they’re less certain, like where I might try and finish in a race.

We’re lucky there are so many metrics – time on a climb, power, weight – so you can aim to improve one facet or other and track that progression.

Less pragmatically, I want to show my new teammates that I deserve to be on this team, and that they can rely on me when needed. 

Dave Brailsford told us at the December camp that we go to races either to help someone win, learn to win so we’ll return to that race with knowledge, or to win.

There will be no situation where I won’t be going for one of those three aims. At this time of the season it makes sense, although things might be different come October when everyone’s dead and minds are heading downhill!

Cyc: Debatable TUEs and that ‘jiffy bag’ have dominated Sky’s off-season. Has this affected newcomers to the team like you and Jon Dibben?

TGH: Stuff like the jiffy bag news is left to you guys [the media]. For me it’s about heading onto the road for four, five, six hours. It’s about ticking off the intervals and repeated climbs. It sounds selfish, especially in such a team sport, but I have a two-year contract with Sky and must focus on myself.

Cyc: Cyclist’s recent profile of Team Sky highlighted the increasing role that good hygiene will play in cutting missed training days. Does that resonate?

TGH: Definitely, although it’s much easier at home. It’s a nightmare when travelling. Go to an airport and everyone’s wrestling you for space or in the name of security.

A bloke attempted to take my smartphone off me and scan in the flight’s barcode. No thank you – he’s touched a thousand of those in the past couple of hours.

Pass me an infection and that could be two weeks off. It’s even worse when you’re on the plane. Just think how many people have flicked through the in-flight magazine – although that’s nothing compared to the food trays.

They’re rarely washed and are purportedly 10 times dirtier than your average toilet seat. Would you eat lunch off a toilet? So yes, the message has had impact.

Tell any bike rider that if you do this you’ll reduce the chances of being sick by 50% and they’ll do it.

Cyc: How did you find moving from Hackney to the pro mecca of Girona?

TGH: I was there from when I finished school really, so three years ago. It’s been a really great base for me. I was 18 when I first turned up there in an apartment I had never seen before except on the internet.

But it was always an easy decision in a way as it made my day-to-day life so much easier in terms of training, resting and doing the right things, compared to what I was used to.

Cyc: You seem to have an old head on those 21-year-old shoulders. Has this maturity helped your progress?

TGH: If you want to be psychoanalytical about it, my parents broke up when I was pretty young so I’ve always been proactive about organising and looking after myself.

One story we laugh about is when I was 10 and I realised on the way to an important football match that I’d forgotten one of my goalkeeping gloves.

I was so angry and embarrassed that I’d let my team and myself down. It really cut deep.

Cyc: There’s a saying that the foundation to elite performance is choosing your parents wisely. Does this ring true with you?

TGH: Neither of my parents comes from a sporting background but they exhibit traits that are required for cycling, like grittiness and working hard.

My dad’s a builder and he often works 16-hour days. If he can put in that effort without 60-odd people looking after his every whim – without a daily massage to ease out life’s stresses – I reckon I can do this.

We have it easy in my opinion and I love my lifestyle. In fact, one of my greatest motivators is to maintain this lifestyle because it’s bloody awesome.

Cyc: It’s not just cycling and football that preoccupied the life of Tao but swimming, too, we hear?

TGH: Yes, I used to swim a lot and actually swam the Channel as part of a relay team when I was 13 years old. It feels like a lifetime ago now.

Cyc: What are your views on the team’s nutritional offerings?

TGH: The food here is incredible, and I’ve never had so much trust in what I’m eating and knowing it’s from a good source.

I’m learning a lot from the chefs, who’ve promised me they’ll show me how to sharpen my knives. I’m lucky that when I’m away from camp and back home in Girona I’ve access to quality fruit and vegetables.

I spend an unbelievable amount of money at a local farm shop but it’s amazing. When I return to London and wander around Tesco it just makes me depressed.

Cyc: So you do most of the cooking when at home?

TGH: I do, and when I’m with my girlfriend I love to cook her something tasty. Her New Year’s resolution was to be more inventive in the kitchen when I’m away, beyond eggs on avocado, which she loves.

So now she’ll drop me a line about what food she fancies that day, and I’ll source a recipe and write her a shopping list.

Last night it was mushroom cannelloni with spinach. The night before it was Ottolenghi green couscous with spinach patties. I’m good with veg as I grew up a vegetarian.

Cyc: How do you perceive the state of cycling in the UK?

TGH: I feel a great sense of gratitude to all the Brits who have come before us, whether it’s Robert Millar, Boardman, Cav or Pendleton.

They brought the sport on in the UK so people actually care about cycling. I remember being at the launch of Team Sky [in 2009] and being so inspired.

Until then, seeing international professionals up close came down to the prologue in London [2007, Tour de France] and one race where Roger Hammond passed me his gloves over a barrier. Now there are regular events like the Tour of Yorkshire and RideLondon, which keep the sport’s profile high.

Take my little brother and sister, who are both still at school in London. They race for their school’s cycling club. They did well to get in as it’s oversubscribed. Ultimately, cycling in this country is in a very strong position.

Cyc: Are you looking forward to taking the next step as a pro?

TGH: Yes, but obviously that means a lot more learning as you have to find your place in your team and your role within it.

Turning pro means you are working up from the very bottom again. That’s the plan for the next few years and hopefully I can make that happen. You just keep plugging away, focusing on the short-term goals and the long-term goals, and try to step up.