Tao Geoghegan Hart claimed an unexpected victory in the Giro d’Italia, making him the most successful Scottish cyclist since Pippa York. Geoghegan Hart, riding for Ineos Grenadiers, came to Italy to ride in support of Geraint Thomas, and was not considered among the favourites when the race began. But after his team leader suffered a fractured pelvis in the first week and withdrew, Geoghegan Hart rode for himself and set about challenging for the General Classification.
The race, held amid rising coronavirus cases across Italy, was defined for long periods by Joao Almeida’s long stint in the ‘Maglia Rosa’ jersey, sparking hope of a first Portuguese Grand Tour winner. His chances were further boosted by the withdrawals of Simon Yates and Steven Kruijswijk, both due to Covid-19. Hopes only faded on Stage 15 after Almeida lost time to Geoghegan Hart and the Sunweb duo of Wilco Kelderman and Jai Hindley, with Geoghegan Hart instead sprinting past both riders to take the stage win, one of seven Ineos wins in the race.
Geoghegan Hart reaffirmed his strength on stage 18, when Almeida lost nearly 5 minutes as the riders ascended the snowy Stelvio pass, and Kelderman lost touch with his teammate Hindley. Geoghegan Hart, aided on the final two mountain stages by time bonuses and his super-domestique Rohan Dennis, then extraordinarily drew level with Hindley by winning Stage 20, setting up a 10-mile Time Trial to decide the fate of the race, echoing the Tour de France earlier this year.
Despite having beaten his rival in the Stage 1 Time Trial, Hindley was unable to match the London-born rider on the streets of Milan, and Geoghegan Hart’s victory marks the first ever win for a Scot at a Grand Tour and he becomes only the second Brit to win the Giro d’Italia after Chris Froome in 2018.
“It’s going to take a long time to sink in,” admitted the newly crowned champion, whose father is of Scottish and Irish ancestry. “Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine this would be possible”. His team principal Sir Dave Brailsford declared it “the stuff of comic books”, adding that “Tao bunked off school” when the team launched in 2010. Brailsford also hinted that the attacking racing style Ineos had displayed at the Giro may become more commonplace for a team previously known for their controlled tempo at the front of the peloton.
Geoghegan Hart also won the White Jersey for Best Young rider, whilst Portuguese fans can celebrate the performances of Ruben Guerreiro, who won the Mountains Classification. Arnaud Demare meanwhile compensated for his omission from the Tour de France by taking 4 stage wins and the Points Classification over Giro-debutant and 3-time World Champion Peter Sagan, who nevertheless rediscovered his form with a fine win from a breakaway on Stage 10.
The Giro is also known for its many minor classifications encouraging combative cycling throughout the race. Simon Pellaud praised the influence of Thomas De Gendt for his long-standing commitment to breakaways after he claimed the Intermediate Sprint competition, while De Gendt himself took the overall combativity prize. Mattia Bais won the Breakaway prize, riding ahead of the peloton for 458 kilometres across the three weeks.
Attention in the cycling world will now turn to the Vuelta a España, the final Grand Tour of the year, which in this congested season overlapped with the final week of the Giro. There, defending champion Primoz Roglic will be seeking to make amends after falling short in the Tour. His closest rival appears to be Richard Carapaz of Ineos, with Chris Froome riding in support of the Colombian before he switches teams to Israel Start-up Nation next year.
Image: W. Domenichini via Wikimedia Commons