He has a name that’s hard to miss, Tao Geoghegan Hart; with 2013 results to match – two of Europe’s premier junior stage races and a podium in the junior Paris-Roubaix.
And for 2014 the 18 year-old from London is off to follow the path trodden by his mentor, Movistar’s Essex chronoman, Alex Dowsett; heading for the USA under the tutelage of Axel Merckx at Bissell – formerly Trek/Bontrager.
Merckx has an excellent track record of bringing young talent through – as well as Dowsett there’s Sky’s Joe Dombrowski and Ian Boswell, not to mention BMC’s Taylor Phinney.
We caught up with Tao just prior to Xmas…
Tell us about your name please; it’s unusual – and how should we pronounce it?
“Tao and Geoghegan are Irish, Tao meaning Tom in Irish Gaelic, my dad’s name.
“It’s pronounced Tayo Gaygan!
“It’s often spelt in all manner of ways, much to my amusement.”
How did you get into the bike?
“I have always ridden around London for transport and been involved in sport; first football then swimming.
“I swam an English Channel relay when I was 13 and after that pool swimming started to seem less and less interesting.
“I guess that’s when a little red women’s racing bike caught my eye.
“I just got stuck in and explored really. I was very lucky, CC Hackney were starting up around the same time and running some grass track events to get youngsters in to it.
“Looking back it all just fell in to place.”
Your rise has been rapid – 2011 saw national results; 2012 European results then this year you’ve won at Nations Cup level.
“When I started cycling I always felt very behind. I didn’t come from a cycling family like a lot of people and especially on the track; I just didn’t have the experience.
“But I worked hard and most importantly was lucky enough to go through the British Cycling set up, working with two amazing coaches; Stuart Blunt on the talent team (u16) and then Matthew Winston for two years on the Olympic Development Programme. I couldn’t have asked for anymore in my time with them.
“I will use what I learned on the BC Programmes for the rest of my life.
“The actual results themselves just came from progression and starting to ride longer, harder and hillier races that suited me. I turned top 20 Nations cup results in 2012 into wins with experience and my approach as much as with physical improvements.
“We had a good team too, after Roubaix and Istria the ball really started to roll, everyone’s roles clicked in, and we performed almost every race day, flat or hilly.”
Silver in the European Junior Team Pursuit Championships in 2012 – did you consider going down the TP avenue?
“Most definitely. I love the team pursuit and fourth in the home Junior Worlds in Glasgow this year was gravely disappointing, even if a great learning experience.
“The TP is a fascinating event and I really buy in to the team element of it, not to mention the training and ultra focused feedback that comes from searching for milliseconds per lap on race day.
“However I didn’t see myself as a rider who could really give to a senior team pursuit team at the pro level. I might be wrong but I simply don’t think I am fast enough.
“You have to have an incredible turn of speed, and in my current build I don’t think I have that to perform at a world class level, I might be wrong but I guess for now I won’t find out!
“My heart is on the road, which is why I chose not to pursue the track.”
Third in the junior Paris-Roubaix, this year – any ‘what ifs?’
“Without doubt, I didn’t have much confidence and probably would have thrown it even harder to the wall now than I did on the day.
“That said, I attacked and attacked but Mads (Dane Mads Pedersen who went on to finish second in the Junior Worlds in Florence, ed.) was simply too strong.
“I have often thought about that day and what I would do again, so if I can get in a similar scenario you will hopefully see a different outcome!
“It was a great day though and the regrets are definitely overshadowed by the way in which it got the momentum going for the rest of the season…”
Tell us about your win in the Tour of Istria – that’s Nations Cup, isn’t it?
“Yeah although it’s funny, everything in the Nations cup series is over shadowed by Roubaix!
“But that makes sense and makes the day on the cobbles all the more special – being ‘attached’ to the pro race in that way. I always say Roubaix and Worlds stand in a class of their own.
“Croatia was brilliant, I had the form and although the terrain wasn’t mountainous, it was hard enough to split it.
“The second day is a right corker; finishing up a 500m super steep cobbled climb, I loved that stage in 2012 and came back really looking forward to getting stuck in!
“It was essentially a bunch sprint so the time gaps weren’t huge, making for interesting racing on the last stage and some sprinting for time bonuses, which luckily I managed to do!”
The Giro della Luigiana – tell us about that win.
“My first race in Italy, I loved it and the parcours were really great to match.
“I had just come straight from a solo two week training camp in Nice, forgoing a big race in the UK, as beforehand we had been on the track for eight or nine weeks.
“I really didn’t know my form and hadn’t raced on the road in months. I went it to it like any other race, looking to perform, but really it was build up for the Worlds. I was very lucky to have joint leadership of the team with another rider going in to the race and I would like to think I showed it was the right call.
“It was a cool race though; I would really love to race out in Italy again sometime.”
A broken chain at the Worlds, that must have been sore?
“Indeed, not much to learn from that one – but these things happen in racing.
“I love the unpredictability of it as a fan of the sport so have to accept this kind of thing.
“It was bitterly disappointing though; the legs were pretty on it.”
How did the Bissell ride come about?
“Axel and I spoke a little through the season and as soon as he said he was interested it was a done deal.
“I always wanted to join this team and work with Axel, so to get the opportunity is amazing.”
Were there any other options on the table?
“Yes there were.
“I always knew I wanted to join Bissell though so it was more a case of seeing if that would work out…”
You must be looking forward to riding for Axel Merckx?
“Very much so, and our other DS Omar Kem, who has a wealth of experience of racing in the States.
“But yes, working with Axel is an amazing opportunity that I hope to make the most of; he has produced some amazing riders over the last few years and had a huge career himself.
“You don’t find many better DS’s than that, right? Well, I don’t think so – and I am super excited to get stuck in!”
Alex Dowsett is your mentor – tell us about how the relationship works.
“Alex is a good friend; he’s perfectly placed for me to ask for advice but also simply to just be a mate.
“I am sure he would love me to say he dishes out the fashion advice and tells me how to be a Spanish mountain goat from his experiences with Movistar – but we just chat about stuff, anything and everything really.
“I always try to speak to as many guys as possible that I meet on the road though, riders or otherwise.
“It’s so interesting to meet new people.
“That said Alex was great about me joining Axel, he had done it himself after all.”
Your training – SRM and watts or ‘old school’?
“Watts but I’m a sucker for a little old school too.”
Tell us about your connections with Rapha and Condor.
“I worked in Condor when I was 14 for a year or so, however as I started properly racing Saturday mornings became dedicated to that.
“Grant Young from Condor gave me a bike the next season and it just snowballed over the years into an amazing amount of support this season.
“Similarly I have been working with Rapha for over three years now, after we made contact at the London Nocturne support race when I was a first year under 16 rider.
“It has been great to represent two brands from London; they are amazing companies and great people and I’ve loved working with them.
“I feel an immense sense of loyalty to both Rapha and Condor.”
Have you received your bike and clothing for 2014, yet?
“I have been riding my Madone for a few months already!
“I love it.”
Has your programme been discussed, yet?
“It’s all in the works at the moment.
“A big new experience for me coming up from the junior ranks, it’s not something you have to do as such.”
Where will ‘home’ be for 2014 ?
“All over the place – Gerona this winter, California and some other bits and pieces in the season.
“I really enjoy floating around though – it’s an amazing opportunity to see the world.”
How much slack will you cut yourself over Xmas?
“A little, I do a fair bit of riding over Christmas, although this year it’s a bit different coming back to London and seeing everyone, all about balancing it all out this time of year I think.”
What would you like to have achieved by the end of season 2014?
” To step up and ride some big races.
“Ultimately I would love to be seen as a well respected and hard working member of the team, someone who can be relied on to deliver.
“I will work hard and try to grasp as many opportunities, whether in a support role or indeed personally, to see what happens.
“It’s all learning but I don’t see that as an excuse not to perform.”