Tao Geoghegan Hart ‘can almost smell Milan’ after closing to within 15 seconds of Giro d’Italia lead

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Australian rider Jai Hindley (R) of Team Sunweb celebrates after crossing the finish line to win the 18th stage of the 2020 Giro d'Italia cycling race over 207km from Pinzolo to Laghi Di Cancano - LUCA ZENNARO/EPA-EFE/ShutterstockAustralian rider Jai Hindley (R) of Team Sunweb celebrates after crossing the finish line to win the 18th stage of the 2020 Giro d'Italia cycling race over 207km from Pinzolo to Laghi Di Cancano - LUCA ZENNARO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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Australian rider Jai Hindley (R) of Team Sunweb celebrates after crossing the finish line to win the 18th stage of the 2020 Giro d’Italia cycling race over 207km from Pinzolo to Laghi Di Cancano – LUCA ZENNARO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Tao Geoghegan Hart said he could “almost smell Milan” after closing to within 15 seconds of the lead of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, setting up a thrilling finish to the race this weekend.” data-reactid=”26″>Tao Geoghegan Hart said he could “almost smell Milan” after closing to within 15 seconds of the lead of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, setting up a thrilling finish to the race this weekend.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The 25-year-old Londoner, who surged into overall contention with his stage win in the Dolomites last Sunday, this time lost out to Sunweb’s Australian rider Jai Hindley in a two-up sprint at the end of the Queen stage of the race, which took in the iconic Stelvio Pass.” data-reactid=”27″>The 25-year-old Londoner, who surged into overall contention with his stage win in the Dolomites last Sunday, this time lost out to Sunweb’s Australian rider Jai Hindley in a two-up sprint at the end of the Queen stage of the race, which took in the iconic Stelvio Pass.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Geoghegan Hart looked slightly disappointed after crossing the line. But he has a wonderful opportunity this weekend to become only the second&nbsp; British rider to win the race after what was one of the most compelling grand tour stages in years; a stage that ebbed and flowed and ultimately left Geoghegan Hart within tantalising reach of the maglia rosa.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”28″>Geoghegan Hart looked slightly disappointed after crossing the line. But he has a wonderful opportunity this weekend to become only the second  British rider to win the race after what was one of the most compelling grand tour stages in years; a stage that ebbed and flowed and ultimately left Geoghegan Hart within tantalising reach of the maglia rosa

Joao Almeida, Deceuninck-QuickStep’s long-time race leader, had begun the day in pink, with a lead of nearly three minutes over Geoghegan Hart. But the 22 year-old Portuguese was unable to live with the searing tempo set by Ineos Grenadiers on the fabled Stelvio, which is among the longest and highest climbs in cycling, rising to an altitude of 2,757m. The route had to be cleared of snow to allow the race to pass.

Geoghegan Hart had team-mate Rohan Dennis to thank, in particular, with the Australian producing a sensational performance in support of his team leader.  One by one Geoghegan Hart’s rivals were dropped as Dennis rode tempo on the front; first Domenico Pozzovivo [NTT], then Almeida, then the great Vincenzo Nibali [Trek-Segafredo].

Only Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman, who began the day  17 seconds behind Almeida, and Hindley, who began the day one second in front of Geoghegan Hart, were able to stay with the Ineos duo as the slopes reared up. But when Kelderman, too, faltered, a few kilometres from the top, Sunweb had a huge decision; either  drop Hindley back to help limit Kelderman’s losses, knowing  the Dutchman had over two minutes in hand on Geoghegan Hart, or keep the Australian with Geoghegan Hart in an attempt to win the stage and try to keep two cards in play.

They chose the latter, and with Hindley ultimately managing to beat Geoghegan Hart in the final sprint to Laghi di Cancano having stuck like a limpet to the Briton’s wheel all the way down to the valley floor and then up the final climb, and with Kelderman just about riding into pink despite finishing over two minutes down, they may well have been proved right. 

But that is open to debate. Had Hindley dropped back he might have ensured a far healthier margin for Kelderman heading into the weekend. As it is there are  just 15 seconds separating the top three and another huge mountain stage to come on Saturday before Sunday’s final time trial. 

Geoghegan Hart will be hopeful of taking more time out of Kelderman on the road to Sestriere on Saturday. The Dutchman, like Hindley, had trouble putting on his jacket at the top of the Stelvio pass, and looked completely spent by the finish. And if he cannot drop Hindley he will hope to beat him in Sunday’s time trial.

Team Ineos rider Great Britain's Tao Geoghegan Hart (C) rides uphill at Passo dello Stelvio - LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty ImagesTeam Ineos rider Great Britain's Tao Geoghegan Hart (C) rides uphill at Passo dello Stelvio - LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images

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Team Ineos rider Great Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart (C) rides uphill at Passo dello Stelvio – LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images

Either way, it is all set up for a dramatic conclusion. This year’s Giro has been underwhelming at times, with a succession of favourites including Geraint Thomas, Simon Yates and Steven Kruiswijk forced to abandon due to crashes or Covid-19 positives. But it is finishing in style.

“It’s really unexpected,” admitted Geoghegan Hart who had won only a couple of stages of the Tour of the Alps as a pro racer before this Giro. “I was pretty far behind after a few stages. We can almost smell Milan now so [we need to] stay focused and see what happens.

“I can only really thank my team-mates because I didn’t do much in the end. Rohan basically rode 99 per cent of the race off his wheel. It was super super impressive.”