By Andrew Greaves
Former Team Sky sports director Sean Yates is backing Giro d’Italia champion Tao Geoghegan Hart to win more Grand Tours – but says the Londoner’s long-term future may be away from Ineos Grenadiers.
Geoghegan Hart produced a stunning ride in the second half of the Giro to claim two stage wins and the overall Maglia Rosa.
And while the 25-year-old could be given the chance to defend his title in Italy next season, competition for Grand Tour leadership at Ineos is fierce with Tour de France winners Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal and 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz all wanting top spot.
Former rider Yates, who masterminded Sir Bradley Wiggins’s Tour de France victory in 2012, believes Geoghegan Hart will stay at Ineos in the short-term but wouldn’t rule out a move if he finds his ambitions stifled.
He said: "He's not at his best yet so he will get better.
“When he's at his peak he'll have more choice and maybe he'll take on a new adventure and go off with another team. You just don't know what's on the horizon.
"For sure, he knows he can win one now. Every Grand Tour you ride makes you a better rider, physically and mentally.
"When you win one, mentally, you know you can do it and you know what it takes so there's no reason I can think of why he won't win another Grand Tour.
"There are a number of guys coming through now who are really good and there are only three Grand Tours a year.
"Tao is an intelligent guy and it's clear that he's not the type to start jumping up and down if he doesn’t get his chance. I think he'll be at Ineos next year but he's still young.
"Maybe he'll go back to the Giro and defend his title as a leader and G (Geraint Thomas) and Bernal go to the Tour and Carapaz tries to win the Vuelta.”
15,7 km. A promising young star at the start, in the Olympus of glory at the finish line. @taogeoghegan's fairytale.
15,7 km. Giovane promessa alla partenza, nell'Olimpo del ciclismo all'arrivo. La favola di @taogeoghegan.#Giro pic.twitter.com/KcTMjMK8I3
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) October 25, 2020
Geoghegan Hart’s Giro win came as a surprise to many, mainly because Ineos Grenadiers went into the race with Thomas as leader.
A crash for the Welshman in the neutral zone of stage three forced the 2018 Tour de France winner to abandon, opening the door for Geoghegan Hart.
But Yates, who was also sports director at Astana when Alberto Contador won the Giro in 2008, believes his progression over the last few years means it should not have been such a shock.
He said: "We've seen Tao developing over the last few years with some good performances on climbs, even when he's been working for G or Chris Froome.
"He's shown he can climb, most recently in the Volta a la Valenciana at the start of the year when he was up there at the big hilltop finishes.
"To win a Grand Tour is a massive thing and it was only a surprise because it wasn't forecast that G would crash, so normally he'd be the guy that sacrificed himself. He showed he had the legs, he had the team-mates to give him the opportunity to take the win.
"People can argue that the field wasn't very strong but if you look at the numbers and the climbs, they were climbing as fast as anyone had ever done.”
The Covid-disrupted 2020 season has seen what many believe to be a changing of the guard in terms of major race winners with Geoghegan Hart, at 25, and Tadej Pagacar, at just 21, claiming two of the three Grand Tours and the emergence of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel as the strongest in the toughest one-day Classics.
Trek Segafredo’s veteran Italian Vincenzo Nibali, a winner of all three Grand Tours, was left to lament the generational shift during this year’s Giro when it became obvious to him on the Passo dello Stelvio – on which he won a stage just three years – that an old head was no match for young legs.
But Yates, who is moving back into the professional ranks as a coach with former Grand Tour winners Contador and Ivan Basso at their newly-UCI ProTeam level Eolo-Kometa squad, believes it’s been a long-overdue overhaul of the World Tour pecking order.
He said: "I would argue that the reason there's been such an abrupt change is that there's been no-one before these guys.
"Nibali is 35 so in cycling terms, he's old! A changing of the guard? He should have been on his way out a few years ago. The fact riders like him can perform at a high-level at an older age means there was a time when there was no real talent coming through, certainly nothing like now.
"Suddenly you have this batch of guys who are all super young coming through but they're 10-15 years younger than Nibali. No-one would expect Nibali to be performing against those younger riders.
"We had the dominance of Froome but who did we have challenging him? Romain Bardet? The thing is with Bardet is he's never been a sensation in my book.
“He's got podium places at the Tour but he was always the next big thing, he was the perennial 'is he going to do it this year?' a bit like Thibaut Pinot."