Tour de Suisse 2017: Spilak reigns supreme

It’s the Tour de Suisse and, as usual, we’ve enjoyed beautiful scenery, a variety of stage winners and leader’s jersey wearers, riders scrapping to secure their Tour de France slots, yet more Peter Sagan stage wins and, more importantly, a hard-fought nip-and-tuck battle for the overall win (for the second time) by Simon Spilak. After steadily gaining ground in the days leading up to Friday’s queen stage, he struck out solo with 8km remaining to take both stage victory and the leader’s jersey with nearly a minute’s advantage, which he held over the next two stages. Damiano Caruso, who wore the leader’s jersey for two days, and Steven Kruijswijk rounded out the final podium.

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Friday Feature: Interview with Tao Geoghegan Hart

I recently caught up with one of the young rising stars of British cycling, Tao Geoghegan Hart. He hails from London but his freckled face betrays his Gaelic heritage. He’s recently signed for the Bontrager Development Team (to be renamed Bissell next year), which has produced a number of talented riders currently lighting up the professional ranks, such as Taylor Phinney (BMC). It’s just reward for an impressive 2013 season where he won the Tour of Istria and the Giro Internazionale della Lunigiana stage races, and finished third in the Junior Paris-Roubaix.

Sheree: A fine swimmer and footballer in your early teens, you turned to cycling when an injury coincided with the start of Hackney cycling club. Did the legacy of those years as a swimmer – aerobic capacity (big lungs) and lonely training schedule – help with cycling?

Tao: Yes, being based in London I do a lot of riding on my own as there aren’t many other racers apart from Alex Peters. We started riding together and he’s recently finished competing in the Tour of Britain for UK Continental squad Madison Genesis, so inevitably I end up training on my own a lot. There are some parallels to swimming where the training is also long and it can be very repetitive. I never really thought of it before but I do think the similar regime has no doubt helped.

Sheree: Success on both the track and road has come quite quickly, hasn’t it? What have been the highlights?

Tao: Yes, it’s been a nice build up but I’ve still got some big goals. I’ve never won a national, European or World Championship or any jersey so I’ve still got massive goals. Each year’s been progressive steps to getting to where I want to be. But you’re always setting new goals for yourself and it’s a big step up next year to the under-23 level. I’ll approach it in the same way I’ve approached every challenge.

Sheree: What or who inspired you to start riding competitively?

Tao: When I started in the sport, It wasn’t so much a question of inspiration. It was more about discovering about the professional peloton, the history and culture of the sport. And it was all so new, foreign and so exciting. In fact I was only talking about this recently with Alex Dowsett (Movistar), with whom I train from time to time out in Essex, I was saying how the mountains still seem so remote, distant and foreign from everyday life. On the flight over here [to Tuscany] we flew over some magnificent mountain ranges and it still feels like something I’ve not really been involved in or fully experienced. There’s so many different elements to the sport but at the same time I look at what fellow Londoner Sir Bradley Wiggins has achieved and there’s not many other riders from London, by comparison with the hotbeds in Yorkshire. Alex has become a good friend of mine and watching him race and perform at such a high level is amazing.

Sheree: It’s good to have a mentor who’s just a few years older than you to show you the ropes.

Tao: Yes, Alex has become a good friend to me and we chat about stuff all the time but equally it’s cool to just ride with him and hear about everything.

Sheree: You mentioned the mountains. Did you enjoy your two weeks riding on the Cote d’Azur?

Tao: It was amazing just riding in the hills and seeing some of the pro guys out training just noting the little things they do while watching them ride. It’s so exciting for a young rider like me.

Sheree: You and me both!

Tao: I had plenty of fun although I rode a lot on my own as many of the (locally-based) riders were away racing but I also did some amazing rides with Sky’s Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas. Meeting and riding with them was really cool, it was brilliant. It also really brought on my form massively after the track block so I left there feeling so much better.

Sheree: You went on to win in Italy straight after?

Tao: Yes, that was a little crazy. I took a seven-hour train journey along the coast. I was nervous because I hadn’t raced for two months and the track hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped. So to go to that race [as part of GB team] and achieve our objectives, even though we were only using it as preparation for the Worlds, was very satisfying.

Tao’s being modest. He won the opening stage, overall, points and mountains classifications in the Giro Internazionale della Lunigiana.

Clean sweep of the jerseys for Tao in Italy (image: British Cycling)

Clean sweep of the jerseys for Tao in Italy (Image: British Cycling)

Sheree: While you’ve not been competing for long, what have been your best memories?

Tao: The European track championships last year was my first big track event. It was such a great, new experience, I enjoyed soaking it all up and to get silver in the team pursuit was an okay result.

Sheree: Only okay? Can I say that’s the right attitude.

Tao: Well, it wasn’t what we went for. and it was the same with last year’s World Championships and the Nations Cup. Of course, everything is so new and exciting. In fact all my time with British Cycling, and all the racing I’ve done, has been one long highlight.

Sheree: If I were to come back and interview you in ten years’ time what would you like to see on your palmares?

Tao: I’d like to see something to indicate I’d had a good career and ridden the races that I dream about. Any further than that, well, it’s too hard to say but I’d love to compete in big pro races and make a career out of racing. There’s something special in making a real good career out of what is essentially your passion and what’s fun. I’d like to see that I’ve raced for 10-15 years and enjoyed it but past that I don’t really know.

Sheree: Do you have to be careful with your diet or like most teenagers can you eat what you like?

Tao: I don’t look at my diet too closely, I just try to eat healthily. I’ve been lucky to have been brought up in an environment with nice kinds of food, lots of salad and stuff like that. I really enjoy being at home. When you’re away on the road for consecutive weeks you really enjoy getting back home and eating simple meals, salads and nice vegetables. At my age you don’t need to get bogged down, it’s all about being sensible. Of course, it’s good to treat yourself from time to time with a bit of Nutella or something similar, but nothing too excessive!

Sheree: After the Worlds, what next?

Tao: I’ll be taking a bit of a break and then I start building for next season in the under-23s. I’ll be doing a little something with Rapha to celebrate their tenth anniversary. They’ve been an amazing personal sponsor to me over the last few years and they’re London-based too. I know the staff really well and I regard them more as friends. After the break, there’s plenty of work to be done across the winter. The results I’ve achieved to date have taken me in the right direction, but nothing more than that.

Sheree: Thanks for your time, good luck and we’ll be keeping a close eye on your progress.

For a variety of reasons the GB squad got a bit of a pasting in the media after the Road World Championships. This was unfair on the juniors, who achieved their objective of having one of their riders (Scott Davis) finish in the top ten and it could’ve been even better were it not for Tao’s unfortunate mechanical. Here’s how the race unfolded for him.

Link: Tao’s website