Tao Geoghegan Hart’s decision to turn down a contract offer from Team Sky in 2015 after a spell as an apprentice at the team has proven to be the right one, says his former boss Axel Merckx.
Merckx, son of the famous Eddy, was Geoghegan Hart’s first team manager as a professional when he joined the Bissell Development Team (later Axeon Cycling Team and Hagens Berman Axeon) in 2014.
And Merckx, in an extensive interview with Eurosport’s Orla Chennaoui, says that Tao always had a wise head on his young shoulders and wanted to go down a slightly different route in terms of his development.
“Tao was already a huge talent as a junior, so I’m sure he had offers left and right,” Merckx said.
My impression was that he wanted to do something different. A little bit like what Alex Dowsett did, who was a role model in that way – he showed that you can be a British rider and not necessarily go through the same channels as everybody else.
“Tao wanted to try to get a different exposure in a different environment, a different experience of life. I think he was attracted a little bit to the laid-back situation in that you don’t have the pressure but you have all the tools to evolve and develop.
“Tao was very mature at an early age. He’s a wise soul in a young body, he’s so talented but so wise and so smart and so mature for his age. He always wanted more, to get more out of his talent and he had to learn not to be impatient also.”
'Tao always had a wise soul in a young body, he was destined to be a leader' - Merckx
When Tao opted against initially joining Sky, Merckx said the rider came to him and asked him for his view. And the outcome, his sensational Giro d’Italia win, shows that the decision was the right one.
“It was probably the best conversation I had with him, looking back,” Merckx says. “But I have had that conversation with other athletes and it’s very difficult; you have the most successful team in the last decade in the world offering you a contract as a 21-year-old lad.
As a manager I just told him: ‘I don’t think you’re quite ready. I think you’re a good rider but I think you can do better and be better prepared in order to become a team leader eventually’.
“Because that’s what I saw in him. He was a natural born team leader, but he hadn’t proven himself yet to be a team leader in our environment.
“I said that once he’d mastered that he could move up and go to Sky. So I advised him to stay with us for at least six months and be a leader and then move up, which he did. It’s a risk he took and I think it paid off in the long run.”
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Was Tao always destined to be a Grand Tour winner?
“I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t think him being a Grand Tour winner was in my mind,” Merckx told Orla Chennaoui.
“I was hoping, I’ve always dreamt of one of my former riders winning a Grand Tour. And quite frankly it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy than Tao, so I’m even more happy that it was him.
“He had the potential to be a top ten and top five rider absolutely, I would have put money on that. Winning is another big step, but he did it and now he’s got the confidence to move forward and to be a major part of that organisation at the Ineos Grenadiers.”
So what now for Tao at Ineos?
“One thing I’m sure also is that he’s going to stay true to himself,” Merckx said.
“He knows that if Bernal or Thomas or Carapaz is in a better position to win a Grand Tour he’ll still sacrifice himself to help them, because that’s who Tao is, that’s the kind of rider he is.”
Watch the full interview below
Exclusive interview with Tao's first professional manager Axel Merckx