Things are not going the way of the Ineos Grenadiers so far in this Vuelta a España. The race started poorly for the British team on the wet, dark roads of Barcelona during that dreaded opening team time trial as Laurens De Plus crashed on a slippy corner and was forced to abandon the race. As the Belgian rider travelled home with a broken hip, you might have thought that was Ineos’ bad luck all used up for the three-week race, but stage seven has only thrown their Vuelta a España campaign further into ruin.
The day began on a sour note with the team’s GC leader, Geraint Thomas, hitting the ground early on. TV cameras flashed to the Welshman receiving medical assistance from the car as the race entered the final 150 kilometres, his knee seemingly being the biggest area of concern. Steve Cummings, the team’s sports director, told GCN after the stage that the crash looked at first like it could have been even worse for Thomas: “G’s first crash initially looked really bad, like he’d done his pelvis or something. He took some time to get up and when he got moving he felt really stiff and was a little bit scared for a while, even with 50 kilometres to go. We told him to try and survive,” Cummings said.
As the stage hurtled towards an inevitable sprint finish, the nerves in the peloton appeared to be high, especially due to the amount of road furniture that the riders had to navigate in the approach to the line. Roundabouts and repeated pinch points on the approach to Oliva, where the stage would culminate, led to scrappy and disorganised lead out trains and the crashes that came next were, unfortunately, inevitable.
The first came with just under 10 kilometres of the stage remaining and included yesterday’s stage winner Sepp Kuss, who thankfully appeared to finish relatively unscathed. The second came just four kilometres later, when a touch of wheels at the back of the Alpecin-Deceuninck lead out train led to a domino effect in the peloton. Over 10 riders ended up on the tarmac, with Thymen Arensman of the Ineos Grenadiers looking the most severely impacted by the crash – he was unable to finish the race and was taken away in an ambulance. As of yet, there are no updates on the Dutch rider’s condition apart from that he was conscious after the fall. Arensman was sitting 24th on the general classification just behind Thomas, and was another of Ineos’ hopes for the overall at this Vuelta.
It was an extremely difficult day for the team, with Cummings adding afterwards: “Thymen is on his way to hospital, when we got there he was conscious. He’s with the doctor and that’s all we know. It’s brutal to lose him, but the race doesn’t really matter, it’s more important that people are ok.”
While the team is understandably preoccupied with Arensman and Thomas’s welfare, the harsh reality of Grand Tour racing is that the Vuelta a España will continue tomorrow – it is a race that waits for no one. With this in mind, the team will be forced to refocus their efforts, however difficult that may be given the circumstances. How they do this will largely depend on the wellbeing of Thomas and whether he is able to continue the race tomorrow as the team’s main GC hopeful.
If the Welsh rider can’t continue or loses more time on the general classification on tomorrow’s tough stage – he is already 2:30 behind the rest of the favourites in the GC after losing an additional 24 seconds today – Ineos will likely have to forget about the fight for the red jersey altogether and put all of their efforts into securing stage victories.
Currently, it seems like the biggest hope Ineos have to do this is with Filippo Ganna, who has been showing his form in bunch sprints so far this race. The Italian finished second on stage five and ninth on stage seven – he seems to have the raw power to challenge the best sprinters and would be able to contest for the win if he had a team dedicated to giving him a strong lead out. Ganna’s versatility means that he is also a rider who could go for the breakaway – he’s able to climb well and will likely be the fastest in a reduced finish at the line. If Ineos are without any general classification contenders, Ganna will almost certainly be given the freedom by his own and other teams to get in the moves of the day.
When it comes to the mountains, Egan Bernal is a rider who we could see able to make it into large breakaways, especially if he is no longer tasked with protecting Thomas. While the Colombian rider is still on a comeback from his crash last year, he has shown good form so far in this Vuelta a España, finishing alongside Thomas on stage three to Arinsal. Thomas himself has already looked to be off the pace in the mountains and his crashes today are not going to help him close the gap to the likes of Remco Evenepoel. If he can recover over the next couple of weeks and considers losing some time, Thomas could be another rider who goes for stage wins from a breakaway rather than focusing on the general classification.
Any which way that Ineos try to tackle the rest of their disastrous race, it’s going to be a challenge for the team to overcome the disappointment of these opening stages. They began in Barcelona with a strong line-up, all of whom would have hoped for more from the race, and even harder still is that much of their misfortune has been utterly out of their control. This Vuelta a España now has had 12 riders abandon in just seven stages and it’s fair to say that the Ineos Grenadiers have been at the brunt of the crashes that have ended so many rider's races. It’s still a long way to go to Madrid and the British team will be hoping for a change of luck over the next two weeks.