Serene expectations: Tao Geoghegan Hart’s new adventure at Lidl-Trek
Former Giro d'Italia champion discusses why the time was right to leave Ineos Grenadiers, as he enters 2024 with a clean bill of health and an eye on the Tour de France
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Tao Geoghegan Hart in his new Lidl-Trek kit for 2024
To say that Tao Geoghegan Hart has come a long way in the last seven months would be a major understatement.
Back in May of last year, the Londoner experienced the euphoric highs and the adulterated lows that come with professional sport. For almost two weeks he raced like a bonafide Giro d’Italia contender but in the blink of an eye, his race ended on a wet descent that left him with career-threatening injuries.
Since that fateful day of May 17, when Geoghegan Hart was carefully lifted from the tarmac and placed in an ambulance headed to Genoa, the 28-year-old has battled back from a position of complete immobility, found a new perspective on what it means to be an elite athlete, and started a new chapter of his career following a move from Ineos Grenadiers to Lidl-Trek. And while his professional cohorts have been traversing the globe in a relentless search for results and rewards, Geoghegan Hart has slowed down, taken stock and yet still returned to elite cycling. "It’s another life,” he tells GCN about his time outside of the cycling bubble.
“For you guys it’s normal but for me to have a schedule every day, be someone at nine, then do this at 10 and that at 11, it was a really different lifestyle. I don’t know how people do it because it pissed me off when someone was two minutes late but it’s been a good period. It’s been very different but now I’m back with the team, at the buffet in the hotel and with crazy cyclists everywhere. I feel like a cyclist.”
On the face of it, Geoghegan Hart looks every bit like the cyclist he was. It’s almost like he’s never been away. Trim, dressed in cycling civvies, this could be just any winter training camp. Except it’s not. It wasn’t clear whether Geoghegan Hart would be able to reach even this point a few months ago.
Rehabilitation from such a serious injury took months, daily gym sessions had to be done under complete supervision, and even after his first ride back on the rollers, there were still major doubts. It wasn’t until late September that the rider and his medical team were sure that he could even attend Lidl-Trek’s camp in December with serious notions of riding like a pro.
“The first ride back was just on the rollers for four or five days, just to control everything,” he says.
“It was really strict. The first ride I didn’t enjoy so much because the coordination was strange and I could feel that I was more clunky than I expected. I was more pessimistic than I was the day before. The next day was already much better, and the third day even better. I thought I’d be inside for weeks and weeks but a few days in and I was back outside riding. It was just a case of getting the fluidity back and a week later I did the bio-mechanical testing, which was much better than I expected too.”
Geoghegan Hart and doctors unsure of a return to Grand Tour-winning level
Bio-mechanical, nutrition, science and training have always been rabbit holes of interest for Geoghegan Hart. When he was 16 he wrote an essay at school on the benefits of high altitude training for cyclists as part of his coursework but even he and those who have medically supported his comeback don’t know whether the rider can return to the form that saw him win a Giro d’Italia in 2020 and the sit within the top-three at the same race three years later.
“Doctors are interesting folk,” he says with a wry smile.
“No one can predict that. Especially when they know the reality. But I don’t have anything now, there’s no flexibility restriction, I don’t have any more strength discrepancy than I’ve ever had, and all the testing I’ve done looks really good. You can start to go into the realm of bio-mechanics and the unknown but there’s not much research on this, to be honest. There was one paper we found from France where they tested one thing that was a bit like this when it came to cyclists and it showed crazy variations in symetrics and power. In other sports, there’s much more return to play research. Your guess is as good as mine.”
© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images
Tao Geoghegan Hart was arguably in the best form of his career at last year's Giro d'Italia, but he was not afforded the opportunity to try and repeat his success from 2020
One might expect a pro athlete’s anxiety to be off the scale at such odds, and maybe Geoghegan Hart simply doesn’t want to open up too much about the mental toil he has experienced during a roundtable interview with relative strangers, but there’s no denying that wisdom, peace of mind, and clarity have formed part of his exterior personality. Those traits were there before his crash too, and were clear during many of his pre-crash interviews, but this time they feel more obvious. More mature, even.
“I had no anxiety and on the other hand no excitement,” he says when asked whether changing teams during his injury increased his worries regarding his future.
“I was very neutral. It was so weird to sign a contract in those times and to think about being a professional cyclist on any team when you’re so far away. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t bend my leg. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t ride a city bike. I felt nothing. I don’t know if that’s a shame because if I think about it now, maybe there should have been excitement about joining a new team. After all, this is the first time I’ve ever changed teams and this is all a new experience for me.”
That excitement is certainly present in Calpe. While he expresses gratitude for how Ineos Grenadiers supported his 2023 inactivity and the relationships he built up after almost a decade on the team, he believes that it was the right time to move on.
“If I didn’t try something now then I probably never would have. I have so many friends at Ineos Grenadiers, and I’ll miss everyone there. There was great staff and riders on that team. I learned a lot but I’m also excited now about a new adventure and experiencing something different. Here it was a bit of a safe move because I knew some of the riders quite well. Jasper [Stuyven], Toms [Skujiņš], Mads [Pedersen].”
Tao Geoghegan Hart (left) and Toms Skujiņš (right) have long been friends, but will now ride for the same WorldTeam
Only time will tell if a move to Lidl-Trek was a safe option or not but it certainly feels like the right direction for Geoghegan Hart at this point in his career. At Ineos Grenadiers there was always the sense, that despite his Giro win, he wasn’t quite given the status deserving of a Grand Tour winner or a leader for future three-week races. Geoghegan Hart might disagree with that, and he’d have far more knowledge on the subject given he lived inside that team, but Lild-Trek feels like a squad that will allow the British rider to breathe and return at his natural pace.
Geoghegan Hart keen to repay Lidl-Trek for faith shown in him
Talks about Tour de France leadership at this point are so premature it’s almost irrelevant but the American squad identified Geoghegan Hart as their man for the future and he clearly wants to pay them back for such faith.
“Cycling has such an amazing culture and history, and it’s always evolving but it’s also so many nuances to it. That’s why people fall so deeply in love with the sport because there’s always a new crazy race in Belgium to discover that they’ve never heard of before. There’s so much depth to it and I think that changing teams is part of that because you’re going to experience a new culture. I’m hesitant to call it a new chapter because I think it’s a bit disrespectful towards the rich history of the team. I hope that I can be part of the growth here, not only as a bike rider but also as a person,” he says.
“Coming here…It was more about the conversations that we had and the feelings that I had. The jump that the team wanted to make and what the team felt that I could bring to that. I never asked about leadership. Let’s be honest, the biggest result of my career, I didn’t start that race as a leader. I went as easy as I could in the TT and lost two minutes. Maybe we’ve not seen a Grand Tour like that in a while where it turns so much on its head but it can happen. Coming here for me, was more about the guys, the equipment and a new challenge.”
There will come a time, however, when Geoghegan Hart is measured by pure results. That’s the nature of elite sport. He knows that, as do we all, but there’s a sense of true serenity when it comes to his approach. Perhaps he wants to limit pressure, perhaps he’s trying to hide his pure hunger to return to his best level but perhaps he’s also willing to take on both of those elements and align them with the fact that he’s made enormous strides in the last few months and that even if there are hurdles in the coming months he has the aptitude to survive them.
“It’s always about results. We’re not in this game for anything else but for me personally, it’s always about the level. 100 per cent. If you look at who is on the startline for the Tour this year, the amount of depth there is, it’s going to be so unpredictable. So you just need to aim at getting there in your best shape. I was at that level in the Giro last year, and that’s going to be the aim again. If I achieve that then I’ll have to be happy with the results that come with that because things change really fast.”