Alexander Smith reviews the 2020 Giro d’Italia and looks at the young road cycling talent that is beginning to emerge.
Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart became just the second British rider to win the Giro d’Italia this weekend, unexpectedly victorious in what was the closest Grand Tour finale in history. This win, alongside results from the rest of this condensed season, including Tadej Pogačar’s triumph at the Tour de France, heralds the arrival of a new generation in cycling.
The Giro proved to be a dramatic race both on and off the road; Hit with Coronavirus controversies from the beginning, prompting two teams to leave the race over health fears, with pre-race contenders Stephen Kruiswijk and Britain’s Adam Yates among them. A crash in the Neutral zone on stage 3 forced favourite Geraint Thomas to abandon, who Geoghegan Hart arrived at the race aiming to help win the Pink Jersey. Heading into the final few stages, many of the other pre-race favourites were out of contention, some losing time, like Vincenzo Nibali, and others having left the race, leaving the race wide open.
Up to stage 18, it was 22-year-old João Almeida who had lit up the race, taking Pink early on and holding it for 15 days. It was here where Geoghegan Hart’s race for the Pink Jersey began to look realistic, as his teammate Rohan Dennis broke the race apart, for Geoghegan Hart to take second on the stage, behind eventual runner-up Jai Hindley, with Hindley’s teammate, Wilco Kelderman, taking Pink. After a flat stage, cut short by rider protests over safety, stage 20 would prove to be equally dramatic, with Geoghegan Hart going toe-to-toe again with Hindley, this time taking the victory on the line, to set up the closest finale in Grand Tour history.
Heading into the final stage time trial, Hindley, in Pink, and Geoghegan Hart in second were racing on the same time, with fractions of a second separating them after 20 stages of racing. It was, however, Geoghegan Hart who would storm into Pink and the overall race victory, beating his rival by 39 seconds on the day.
Geoghegan Hart’s victory symbolises a new generation of cyclists coming through to challenge for the biggest races. Tadej Pogačar took victory at the Tour de France aged just 21, and other riders aged 25 or younger have taken big victories this season, like Matthieu Van Der Poel at Ronde Van Vlaaderen. This next generation have bucked the trend that riders generally begin to compete for big races in their late 20s, with many of the biggest names in the sport at the moment under 25. This includes superstars like Remco Evenepoel, Egan Bernal, and last year’s World Champion, Mads Pedersen. For context, Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France at age 32 and Chris Froome his first Tour at age 28. If these riders are still competing for the biggest races into their 30s, then we will see them dominate in the sport for longer than ever before!
For British cycling, the future looks bright, too. Alongside Geoghegan Hart, James Knox put in some strong performances at the Giro, following up on two previous top 15 Grand Tour results, and riders like Ethan Hayter at Team INEOS have begun to show themselves as adept to World Tour racing. Also joining Team INEOS for next season is Tom Pidcock, who won this year’s U23 Giro d’Italia emphatically, winning the final 3 stages. We have also seen many teams outside of Team INEOS begin to sign promising British talent, with young riders like Harry Tanfield and Connor Swift competing in their first Grand Tours this season, for French teams AG2R La Mondiale and Arkéa Samsic.
So, this year’s Giro d’Italia has helped usher in the new generation of cycling talent onto the world stage, for many years to come. If the racing from these young superstars is going to be half as exciting as the Giro this year, we are sure to be in for a thrilling ride.