A few weeks after the start of the first Tour de France in a decade not to feature a British contender, Deceuninck-QuickStep rider James Knox suggested fans might want to tune into the Giro d’Italia instead.
News that neither Geraint Thomas nor Chris Froome would start the Tour had prompted many to suggest Britain’s era of dominance was over, but Knox reckoned the Giro could make that idea look “laughable”.
He was thinking mainly of Thomas and Simon Yates, the two main contenders who would suffer premature exits, but the 24-year-old Knox also knew he was part of the next generation ready to prove themselves in a season which has seen young riders from across the globe make their mark.
— British Cycling (@BritishCycling) October 26, 2020
Knox’s comments may now seem prescient, but Tao Geoghegan Hart’s remarkable Giro victory was a plot twist not even he saw coming.
The Londoner became just the fifth Briton to win a Grand Tour and, at 25, the youngest addition to the list. His victory is Britain’s 11th in a Grand Tour since Sir Bradley Wiggins won the Tour in 2012.
His is a victory which proves that, while it might be greedy to expect another perennial Grand Tour winner of Froome’s calibre immediately, the cupboard is anything but bare.
At 28, the Yates twins should be entering their prime years. Simon already has a Grand Tour trophy from the 2018 Vuelta a Espana, while Adam will move to the Ineos Grenadiers next season, a rider Sir Dave Brailsford has long coveted.
But what of the next wave?
Geoghegan Hart has now moved himself to the front of that conversation.
The stars aligned for him in this strangest of seasons but when the opportunity came he did not falter in a final weekend of the Giro that will be talked about for years.
Geoghegan Hart took two stage wins along the way, while Israel Start-Up Nation’s Alex Dowsett, 32, soloed to a memorable victory on stage eight and Ben Swift collected two top-five finishes.
Others made their mark too. Lotto-Soudal’s Matthew Holmes, making his Grand Tour debut at 26, clocked up the most kilometres of any rider in the race in breakaways, 2,222km in all.
We have @MatthewHolmes51 respresented in a large breakaway group of 21 riders at this Giro’s final mountain stage.
— Lotto Soudal (@Lotto_Soudal) October 24, 2020
His team-mate Jon Dibben took a different kind of accolade on his own Grand Tour debut as he finished as the maglia nera – the black jersey – dead last in the general classification, but it will have been a valuable learning experience for the 26-year-old.
Knox came into the race on the back of seventh place at Tirreno-Adriatico and, though he spent much of the middle fortnight sacrificing himself for team-mate Joao Almeida in the pink jersey, he still finished 14th overall, a result which hints at future promise.
And it is not just in the Giro that Brits have impressed. For the first few days of the Vuelta much of the focus was on Froome’s struggles as the 35-year-old – riding his first Grand Tour in two years – continues to bear the scars of last year’s horror crash.
But at the end of Sunday’s stage nine, a late dig from Hugh Carthy saw the 26-year-old move up to second overall, overhauling Primoz Roglic to sit 18 seconds behind the new leader Richard Carapaz.
— Tom Pidcock (@Tompid) October 9, 2020
Britain has four Grand Tour debutants in the Vuelta. Mark Donovan, 26, and Harry Tanfield, 25, have shown their colours in breakaways already in the opening week, while Fred Wright, 21, and Stevie Williams, 24, are making their bows for Bahrain-McLaren.
Away from the smooth tarmac, Tom Pidcock spent the last month collecting two more world titles for his collection at the Mountain Bike World Championships – adding to accolades in cyclo-cross and on the road, where he won the Baby Giro this summer.
Viewed as one of the most exciting prospects in world cycling, the 21-year-old will race for the Ineos Grenadiers on the road next season, joining a group of young prospects which also includes track star Ethan Hayter – already dubbed “the Chosen One” by Ed Clancy.
Another chapter could just be beginning.