It was a coming of age” performance as Eurosport commentator Rob Hatch called Tao Geoghegan Hart‘s Giro d’Italia Stage 15 win on the line, as his third victory as an elite rider became the most important of his career.
Adding to his two stage wins at the Tour of the Alps last year, the 25-year-old from Hackney, London had the opportunity to fight for something he wouldn’t ordinarily have had if the Giro had gone as planned for the team.
'A coming of age performance!' Watch as Tao Geoghegan Hart wins Ineos' fifth Giro stage
In his post-stage interview, he said: I only had the stage win in mind, I lost some time in the prologue the plan for the whole team was to support Geraint [Thomas] for the victory and I really believe he would’ve been on the podium if not better… I’ve only won a few races in my career so this is very incredible for me.”
With the early abandonment of team leader Geraint Thomas, Dave Brailsford had told the remaining members to race aggressively. Perhaps to salvage what they could of the few racing days left after a disappointing season.
And with three of their riders hoovering up five stage wins in spectacular style they have absolutely done that.
But it’s not only Team Ineos without a team leader.
From six of the race favourites, only three remain after Thomas, Simon Yates and Steven Kruijswijk abandoned the race for reasons varying from crashes to coronavirus, leaving Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang, Wilco Kelderman, and Joao Almeida left as the race’s realistic favourites and only Sunweb’s Kelderman and Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Almeida under the age of 30.
With the number of abandonments, including the whole of Jumbo-Visma and Mitchelton-Scott, it has become a young man’s Giro, with six of the nine different stage winners under 30, and three of them 25 or younger.
However, it’s not just about age, it’s about going for an opportunity that normally isn’t there. Alex Dowsett, 32, delivered an emotional Stage Eight victory after a sprint which seemed to surprise himself.
His prior win came in the 2019 National Time Trial Championships and as he scouts around for a new contract for 2021, his Giro stage win could be what he needs to secure it.
‘They’ve finally arrived at the big time’ - Watch Dowsett make history at the Giro
With the exception of Deceuninck-Quick-Step, who are working hard to protect their race leader, many of the young riders are left to roam free; other riders lacking leaders are released of domestique duties and taking the opportunity to see what they are capable of.
Filippo Ganna has impressed the World Tour with his surreal time trialling ability, which transferred perfectly to the road when he won stage five – his first road World Tour win in a grand tour - which will not go unnoticed by directeur sportifs when contract negotiations come around.
Portugal’s Joao Almeida is racing his first grand tour and has not yet won a stage. On Sunday, the 22-year-old clung on to the pink leader’s jersey for another day by just 15 seconds after suffering on the final climb to the summit finish. But his stint of 13 days in pink is one that will not be forgotten quickly, and will please team boss Patrick Lefevere, no doubt, that his scouting skills are sharp.
'Geraint would have been wiping the floor with everyone here': A modest Geoghegan Hart on GC chances
As the overlapping of races on this calendar saw ever-changing team line-ups, the unpredictability and high drop-out rate has left riders with rare opportunities to race in a raw style. Of the nine different winners so far, how many would have been clear of team duties to go for a stage win had their respective team leader still been active in the race?
Even if there’s still life in the old dogs of Nibali and Fuglsang as the race enters the final week, it has been most refreshing to see the path cleared for new talent to rise, and those individual victories and time in pink won’t be forgotten easily.
The racing has been intense and thrilling in this unpredictable year’s edition of the Giro d’Italia.