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Hart of Hackney
Photo by Neil Bedford
Seventeen year-old Tao Geoghegan Hart, born and raised in east London, is part of the British Cycling Olympic Development Programme and races for CC Hackney. A precocious talent and fast talker, I met Tao at the Rapha Cycle Club in Soho to discuss crashing at Roubaix, texting Tom Boonen and modelling for Rapha.
Did you ride here?
I came on the Tube today. I just came in from a training ride, so I’m looking after the legs a little bit, especially in this weather. I have got a bike for riding around town, a singlespeed with a steel Moser frame from the 1970s.
Speaking of the weather, how did you get on with the wind today?
It was slow for the first hour and-a-half; headwind out, tailwind in. Twenty-eight kph average on the way out and 35kph on the way back. I don't enjoy those conditions to be honest but it’s one of those things, just get it done. I like racing in the wind and rain but training in it? It’s not much fun.
Speaking of racing, there’s a rather well-known photo of you taken after you crashed at last year’s junior Paris-Roubaix.
In the photo I’m wearing the Merci Roubaix [Rapha Pro Team] base layer. I'm wondering if I should wear the same base layer this year; I can't decide whether that’s being too superstitious. In the photo we’re trying to find a doctor – in the crash I tore a huge hole in my back. Before the crash I was feeling good, giving bottles to [team leader] Jon Dibben and leading him out on sectors. By that time the group was quite small, we were doing well, 30km to go and we still had five Brits in there. I tried to get back after the crash but I couldn't pedal properly and was having back spasms over the cobbles. By the time I reached the velodrome, the gates were closed and they wouldn’t let me in. It's a cliché but it was a big lesson for me; one moment of lost concentration.
Do you race the same route as the pros?
We do the last 90km of the senior race, with 50km of loops before that. I've raced a lot in Belgium but it can’t be compared with the cobbles of northern France. They're massive and the gaps are much bigger. It's like trying to ride a bike with a pneumatic drill as a front end. I went to a training camp the day after and did three hours in the rain – I couldn't open my hands properly.
What's the aim at this year's Roubaix - to finish?
If I get picked, the aim is top five. In road races there are so many uncontrollable factors and [Roubaix] has more than most. At the same time, if you position yourself well you can make your own luck. If I have another crash, or five punctures or just bad luck generally, I’ll simply go to the next race. I still wanna aim at this, as it’s the big one. It's not necessarily a race which suits me the best, but I think it's one where if I use my head, I can make massive gains.
Are you more suited to hillier races?
So far I have been but with Roubaix, especially the junior race, a lot of it is about positioning and having the legs. The cobbles take their toll and over the last few years I've been better in the longer, harder races
You must have a pretty good time as an aspiring racer?
Last season I won the Bath Road Race on the same day that Wiggins won the Tour. Claire Beaumont from Condor sent me a picture of Wiggins winning the Bath race when he was riding for Condor.
How did you start riding?
I used to swim a lot, including a channel swim relay when I was 13. Then Keir Apperley [CC Hackney’s youth mentor] started taking us out and we’d do 110 miles on a Sunday morning. We’d just get lost and it was good fun. I got ‘doored’ by a mini-cab driver and broke my finger. The doctors said I could ride my bike but I couldn't swim; after that I didn't really swim again.
The thing about just going out and discovering new little lanes and finding your own routes in your local countryside was much more appealing than doing laps in a pool. We must have done something right, as me and Alex [Peters, now riding for Roger Hammond's Madison team] are doing alright for ourselves.
We were laughing about it the other day. Alex used to crash a lot. Once, in Hertfordshire, he took a corner a bit late and went over his bars. His neck hit [fellow rider] Clem Berrill’s rear tyre and Alex had rubber burnt into his skin for a month. The ambulance wouldn’t take Alex’s bike and we had to ride back with it. Myself and Clem were seeing stars and by the time we got back we didn't know what day of the week it was.
How did you find the shoot with Rapha recently?
It was interesting. I was a bit nervous as [fellow model] Rob Saunders had done it before and Gem Atkinson’s got a pretty face so she's alright. The crew were all dead nice and it was a good experience.
Good media training?
Well, it's funny because I've realised recently how journalists can jump on anything you say. I went out for a ride with the Belgian national team last year and Phil Gilbert was talking about how the press had created some massive shitstorm about him.
Tell us how riding with those guys came about?
I was on the way back from a race in Belgium. Jon Cannings [amateur racer and renowned Belgophile] knows Boonen a little bit and put out on Twitter that the Belgian national squad wanted to go for a ride from the Olympic Village. There were loads of people on Twitter up and down the country saying, “Yeah I'll take ‘em out”. I was like, “That's mine, I'm having that, they’re my local roads.”
So I got this text from Boonen saying: “We’re by the station.” I was riding round looking for them and suddenly there’s these six Belgian lads in full Olympic kit; bright orange bikes, deep section tubs, just stood outside Stratford station.
Just so we're clear: the Belgian national team?
Yes, and they loved it. In Belgium they can hardly walk down the street without getting mobbed – Boonen's like David Beckham over there. We did a little chilled loop, no team car, no cameras and then we went for coffee. It was a beautiful sunny day and there no one was hassling them. They didn't have any money and I had to buy the coffees. It was hard explaining it to some of my mates afterwards. Like, when have you ever had a kickabout with Robin Van Persie in your local park?
That's the great thing about cycling.
Absolutely. People can ride the Roubaix course the day before and experience the same jaw-jarring parcours as the pros. I like it because I'm doing my races and then I can watch the pros. And the more you progress, the more you understand it, get more insight and that's really interesting. We also do a race called the Course de la Paix, which is effectively the Peace Race.The same race people like John Herety [Rapha Condor JLT manager] and Chris Lillywhite [British Cycling soigneur], rode twenty-odd years ago. Getting the opportunity to ride these historical races is amazing and I'm looking forward to more of them
Do you enjoy the travelling?
Yeah I love it. I'm not at home for any weekend now for a while. Except for my 18th birthday, which is the week before Roubaix.
So you won't be partying too hard that weekend?
Just water, pan y agua… I'll get a good weekend's training at home. Junior racing is pretty crazy, there's no hierarchy, so anything goes. At the end of the day, if you can pedal hard enough you can get where you wanna go.
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