It was the end of 2013 when we last spoke to Tao Geoghegan Hart (Axeon Hagens-Berman). He has a name that’s hard to miss with 2013 results to match – two of Europe’s premier junior stage races and a podium in the junior Paris-Roubaix. Since then a lot of races have flowed under the bridge and he’s had strong results in more than his fair share of them.
Under the tutelage of Axel Merckx the 2014 season saw him third in the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege and 10th overall in the Tour de L’Avenir.
2015 saw a repeat of the LBL result, 13th on GC in both the Tour of California and Utah and seventh on GC in the Tour of Colorado.
And there was also a spell as a stagiaire with Team Sky at the end of last year – but he decided to stay with Merckx for season 2016.
This year he’s won the Trofeo Piva in Italy and finished second on GC in both the Course de la Paix in the Czech Republic and the Tour des Pays de Savoie in France – taking a stage win in the latter.
But Sunday saw him take arguably the biggest result of his career; finishing sixth behind Messrs. Blythe, Cavendish, Fenn, MvNally and Thwaites in the British Elite Road Race title event – and taking the U23 jersey champion’s in the process.
Blythe, Cav and Fenn are all highly experienced World Tour riders whilst McNally and Thwaites are on Pro Continental teams.
We caught up with Tao the day after his great result courtesy of the good offices of his team’s communications agent, Sean Weide.
Congratulations, Tao a great ride – how did you spend the time between the Pays de Savoie and the Nationals in Stockton?
“I flew back to London and had a few days with my family then my girlfriend and I traveled up to near Middlesbrough where we’d organised an AirBnB.
“We checked out the TT course and got the bikes ready; the National is about the only race each year where I don’t have the team staff there with me – so I’m my own mechanic.”
You were active early in the race.
“Yeah, after last year I decided that I wasn’t going to be on the back foot so I’d keep up front without wasting too much energy.
“British roads are heavy, I didn’t want caught out – I wanted the race behind me, not ahead of me.
“There were moves going all the time and I definitely wanted to be up front – there were about 40 away, then four of us got clear then eight came across to us to give the final group of 12 who contested the finish.
“In the end it played out well for me.”
Did the absence of a heavy Team Sky presence affect the way the race developed?
“It made a big difference, usually they have five or six big strong guys who influence the race early, tearing it up from the gun; this year it was a lot more open – there was no clear favourite albeit a lot of guys were watching Cav.”
Chris Lawless was in the group – he’s a U23 and quick, were you watching him?
“The main thing for me was not to think about the other U23 riders, just to focus on getting the best result I could in the race, if the U23 title came with that than all to the good.”
How did you rate the parcours?
“I liked the two circuits, there was a bit of everything; open roads, narrow roads, grippy surfaces – it encouraged a lot of attacks and reminded me of a Belgian kermis.
“And it was lumpy – we did 2200 metres of climbing during the day.”
It was 207 kilometres, you can obviously handle that distance?
“Yeah, yeah I like the longer distances, I’ve ridden them in races like the Tour of Britain and L’Avenir – I think I go better over them.”
You were second to Scott Davies in the U23 time trial champs – were you happy with that ride?
“Being honest, I came out to win it but Scott did a good ride so I just had to handle the disappointment.”
Tell us about the post-race celebrations.
“A four-and-a-half to five hour drive home with my dad in the pouring rain was my post-race celebration!”
Will Axeon be getting you a nice version of the jersey and a trick paint job?
“Yeah, I’m sure they’ll get the jersey looking good; trouble is that won’t be riding many more U23 races, this season – it’ll mostly be Elite events.
“If I gain selection for the Tour de L’Avenir I’ll be able to wear it there, though.”
You Axeon boys have been scooping up the national titles…
“Yeah, Krists Neilands won the Latvian U23 time trial and road race titles; Ruben Guerreiro won the Portuguese U23 TT; Eddie Dunbar won the Irish U23 TT and of course Greg Daniels won the US Elite Road Race – that’s six.”
And one of Axeon’s sponsors is English?
“Neon, they’re an investment company based in London; the team is US but it’s nice for me to have a British sponsor to net a good result for.”
I saw Axel Tweeted his thanks to Pedal Heaven for some help they gave you?
“I had mechanical mid-race and they were sporting and courteous enough to come to my aid; helping a rival like that out of a sense of good sportsmanship is great – I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to Tim and Pedal Heaven.”
What’s on the agenda now?
“I’ll have a little break of five or six days then return to my base in Spain for two weeks training then I have the Tour of Utah in early August.
“If selected I’d love ride the Tour of Britain and L’Avenir but I’ll have to wait and see what the selectors say…”