ANDORRA (Reuters) - Eight months after claiming the Giro d'Italia title, Tao Geoghegan Hart started his first Tour de France with an ambitious Ineos Grenadiers team but after only a few days the script had to be torn up and thrown in the bin.
The 26-year-old was one of four protected riders, along with 2018 champion Geraint Thomas, Ecuador's Richard Carapaz and Australia's Richie Porte, but after a pile of crashes in the opening days only Carapaz was left competing for the title.
That was until holder Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia hammered his rivals in the first time trial and the opening Alpine stage to build a gap of over five minutes, leaving Carapaz fourth overall and Geoghegan already reflecting on his maiden Tour experience.
A roadside spectator holding a cardboard banner had caused a massive pile-up during the first stage of the Tour.
"The first big crash with the sign - it was seven of us together and I was seventh wheel," Geoghegan Hart told reporters.
"Basically the crash was coming across the road towards us and the six guys in front of me got through and I managed to stop as someone crashed in front of me, but then someone hit me from behind and broke my two-and-a-half hour old brand new lovely Pinarello (bike)," he added.
"That's the reality of bike racing I think and we have to accept that."
Geoghegan Hart was already out of contention and so was Porte before Thomas also crashed on stage three, leaving Ineos Grenadiers's four-pronged attack with only Carapaz to fight for the title.
"We openly discussed that basically for myself and Richie Porte it was a case of trying to stay in the game but you can't protect four riders in the Tour, it's never going to happen," Geoghegan Hart explained.
"If you look at the top 10 now, it's one rider from each team and that's not by chance."
Geoghegan Hart discovered that everything on the Tour is bigger than in the other two grands tours.
"In my first grand tour, I acknowledged that (the stakes were higher than in other races) a little bit at the Vuelta and then obviously the Giro was, and is, another step up from that and then on the Tour (de France) every rider has a little bit more incentive and motivation and pressure to be into that corner in the right position or start that stage," he said.
"Also the level is so high that stuff like positioning (to avoid being at the back of a crash) becomes more important. For example two days ago on that flat start the effort required to get to the front was large, very large."
Geoghegan Hart, however, is enjoying his first Tour and, even though things did not go according to plan, he still has something to give for Carapaz and to take from the race.
"It's definitely not miserable. I enjoy racing, I enjoy doing my job and being here with the team," he said.
"It's still a massive race every young cyclist dreams of being part of and, at the end of the day, when you get to stage 20 in a grand tour there's always the chance that you can turn it around and even if that's not stage 20 or 21 it could be in the future. It is also experience.
"It's been far from ideal but it's the nature of the beast. And I think at the same time we still got Richard in a good position and if I was in his shoes I would be looking around the bus looking for my team mates' support and it's a big motivation for me to give him as much support as I can."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)