Great Britain

Tao Geoghegan Hart is the real deal. He deserves Giro d'Italia success

I had been awake for a while waiting for the stage to start, playing through every scenario in my mind and hoping that everything – the course, the weather – went in Tao’s favour. It’s a big emotional moment for people involved in his development and for his own team too, because they have been through a lot this year.

Tao is someone who touches a lot of people in his life and that’s the main thing you have to remember about him. He’s the real deal. When he rode for us, he rallied the troops, he encouraged his teammates, and he also told us when it wasn’t good enough – not in an angry or negative way, but in a kind and encouraging manner.

I knew he was good enough to be a GC rider but it’s always difficult to say that it’s guaranteed that this guy will win a Grand Tour, because so much can happen. Even midway through the Giro, looking at it, you’d think: “OK, he could be a contender but to win it is a different story.”

He didn’t start the Giro to win but to support Geraint Thomas. However he was ready to take his opportunity when Geraint crashed out, and he grabbed it and finished it off and that’s what makes it so great.

Probably what I am most proud of, during my time working with him, is that he could have gone to Dave Brailsford and Team Sky a year sooner than he did, but he opted to stay with us. He had the chance to go there but he came to me and asked me, quite frankly: “What do you think? What should I do?”

I’m always honest with my riders so I said: “Yes, this is a huge opportunity and Sky is hard to turn down but if you ask me I think it’s one year too soon. You’re a good rider, you’ve had some good results, but you haven’t really won anything yet. You haven’t proven to yourself that you can be a true leader. If you move up to a team like that you want to go as a potential leader.”

He took that, considered it and turned down the offer from Sky and told them he wanted to wait a year. I was pretty shocked but I think Dave was very understanding. I think he got Tao’s point and respected it. Then a year later, he joined them.

Tao’s got a mature head on young shoulders. He’s older and wiser than most men – even me sometimes. We are really close and talk almost every day. Something bad might happen in your life, right in the middle of a big race, and he’ll be the one to say: “How are you doing? Are you OK?”

He’s an old soul in a young body.

When my daughter got diagnosed with a tumour, Tao was so kind to her. He made a video with a bunch of Sky’s riders, encouraging her and sending her messages. That’s not something that the average 22-year-old does normally. He’s got a good soul and a good heart. So, for me, he’d won a pink jersey already.

He’s confident and he’ll grab any opportunity that he can, so I think he has the potential to win more Grand Tours. Once you have won one, there’s no reason why you can’t do it again. At the same time, they have Egan Bernal and Richard Carapaz – big, big names – but Tao can be with them, too. And if something goes wrong, then you have options.

He deserves this success. It’s always easy to say: “Oh, but Thomas, Yates, Kruiswijk weren’t there,” but in every Grand Tour riders crash and get sick and that was no different in this year’s Giro. It’s a little unfair on him: he was the strongest over the three weeks, he took the risks, it was the same race for everyone. He ended up with the maglia rosa in Milan and that’s all you have to remember.

Axel Merckx, son of Eddy Merckx, was Tao Geoghegan Hart’s coach and mentor at Axeon 2014-16.

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