LONDON: Tao Geoghegan Hart thrust himself into contention to become Britain's latest Grand Tour winner with a superb ride on a dramatic 18th stage at the Giro d'Italia on Thursday (Oct 22).
The Londoner was supposed to be riding for his more illustrious Ineos Grenadiers team mate Geraint Thomas at the Giro but since the Welshman abandoned early after a crash, the 25-year-old has grabbed his chance in style.
As the fearsome Stelvio climb blew the race wide open, Geoghegan Hart battled Sunweb's Australian rider Jai Hindley for the stage win, finishing a close second.
More importantly, after starting the Queen's stage almost three minutes behind now-deposed leader Joao Almeida, he is now third overall, a mere 15 seconds off Dutch leader Wilco Kelderman and three seconds behind Hindley.
Ineos Grenadiers, formerly Team Sky, have endured a tough year in the Grand Tours. Their Tour de France hopes went up in smoke when defending champion Egan Bernal cracked, then former Tour winner Thomas's mishap appeared to have wrecked their chances of challenging for the maglia rosa in Italy.
With Chris Froome struggling badly on the Vuelta after only two stages, Ineos Grenadiers have consoled themselves with five stage wins at the Giro, including one for Geoghegan Hart on Sunday, his first in a Grand Tour.
But the story might get even better for Geoghegan Hart who looked powerful on the Stelvio and then again on the day's final climb, the 9km Torri di Fraele, as Hindley sat on his wheel.
"It's really unexpected - especially if you look at how the first stage of the race was. I was pretty far behind after a few stages," Geoghegan Hart said. "We can almost smell Milan now so we'll stay focused and see what happens."
Geoghegan Hart benefited from a superhuman effort by Australian time trial specialist Rohan Dennis who set a relentless pace up the Stelvio and reached the summit first.
"Rohan basically rode 99 per cent of the race off his wheel. It was super, super impressive," Geoghegan Hart added.
"In hindsight it was a pretty crazy stage. We set out at the start of the day to take time and we did that."
While Kelderman leads, the Dutchman was on the limit on Thursday to secure the maglia rosa, while Hindley and Geoghegan Hart, both unlikely GC contenders at the start of the race, both appeared to have much more left in the tank.