With the training camp in February this year, I spend January in Girona – north of Barcelona, it’s the place I’ve called home for quite a few years now – mainly biking with Dan and Tao Geoghegan Hart, a young London lad. Tao was in the same position I had been in nineteen years before, in 1996. An eighteen-year-old kid, a first-year senior straight out of juniors with dreams that still matched ambition. Anything is possible for Tao: it’s that lovely point in a career where everything is in front of you and, although the mountain ahead looks colossal, there is no reason why the top can’t be reached. He was refreshing to ride with. His enthusiasm was the perfect antithesis to my weariness: it reminded me of what I used to be like, it was a reminder I needed at this point in my career. Because we forget we were once young and full of dreams.
Tao is part of the new generation. He was born and bred in Hackney in east London, an area not known for developing cyclists, yet cycling is in his blood. He has grown up knowing only British success in the sport – he didn’t have to rebel against the system as I had done at his age; the system has nurtured him and given him opportunities. For him it is normal that Team GB are one of the most powerful cycling nations in the world. That would have been a laughable thought just fifteen years ago.
Tao’s knowledge of the sport is encyclopaedic. He studied English literature at school (and liked it!) and has a voracious reading habit which is easily satisfied by the ever-growing oeuvre of cycling literature. While we were training, every few days he’d be on to a new cycling book. I got the impression he wasn’t just doing it out of curiosity or for amusement, but also because he wanted to learn as much as possible. Because, although GB is now a cycling powerhouse, it doesn’t actually have any cultural history when it comes to road racing. I was the first pro that Tao had ever really spent any time with beyond his books. I was part of the continental culture – I could tell him first-person stories and share the lessons I had learnt. It was good for both of us.
By the end of the month even Dan and I were at our wits’ end: the two guys who always complain about winter training camps were wishing we’d never opened our mouths. We were beginning to go slightly insane, we had made a terrible mistake thinking we could manage January on our own.We were counting down the days till we would leave for Mallorca for the first races, followed by the training camp. It was pitiful.
Fortunately, we both began to feel good on the bike. It’s strange when this happens, and it generally comes like a bolt from the blue. It happened to me on 20 January, and it was wonderful and made everything seem OK again. Our form on the bike always dictates our mood. When we feel good physically we float along on a cloud off the bike – albeit a very slow cloud, as the faster we are on the bike the slower we are off it. This is all part of the energy conservation game that becomes built into us over time. As the old adage goes: ‘Don’t stand if you can sit, don’t sit if you can lie down.’
Dan was the same. All of a sudden the two of us were back on top of it. Meanwhile, Tao’s puppyish eagerness had not once diminished: he was into his third straight sickening month of it.
Thanks to INEOS GRENADIERS and Russ Ellis for the photos.