INEOS Grenadiers: Behind the Wheel

With the INEOS Grenadier 4X4 now available to order, the INEOS Grenadiers cycling team took it for a spin in the Andorran hills. Rouleur joined them to see how the riders dealt with being on four wheels instead of two

*Paid partnership with INEOS Grenadier*

“This is pretty special, eh, mate?” The Andorran mountains span all around us, green and powerful under the azure sky. A pack of majestic, muscular horses huddles to the side of a rocky track, their dark brown hair shimmering in the sunlight. We follow a path which takes us higher into the hills, it’s hot and dusty, but stunningly peaceful. The soundtrack to the picturesque scene is INEOS Grenadiers’ Luke Plapp’s recognisable Australian twang.

The 21-year-old rider is usually enthusiastic, but today his voice has an especially excitable edge. It’s no surprise, really. We’re bouncing along the beaten track in the Grenadier 4X4, a new vehicle brought to market this year by INEOS chairman, Sir Jim Ratcliffe which aims to fill the ever-growing gap in offerings for pure, uncompromising off-roaders, and Plapp is behind the steering wheel.

While his team, INEOS Grenadiers, is of course, supported by the British company, the delight Plapp is finding in driving the vehicle is undeniably authentic. “This is seriously impressive,” he exclaims as the Grenadier easily surges up the steep gravel inclines we are tackling with no wheelspin and no struggle. I listen for the sound of the engine revving as Plapp manoeuvres the vehicle over the tricky terrain, but, to my surprise, I hear only the whistle of the wind and sound of the mountains. 

In the passenger seat of the vehicle is another INEOS Grenadiers rider: Pavel Sivakov. The Frenchman’s demeanour is a contrast to Plapp’s. He speaks softly and quietly observes the buttons on the Grenadier 4X4’s dashboard, occasionally asking considered questions to the expert who is sitting in the back seat. But despite Sivakov being naturally reserved compared to his team-mate, his carefully chosen words also express admiration for the vehicle he sits in.

“I live here in Andorra, but I’ve never seen views like that,” he tells me afterwards. “Driving off-road, it really lets you see more than usual. That was a new experience for me.”

It’s true that the Grenadier 4X4 is designed for discovery and adventure. It’s made to be reliable, functional and tough, a far cry from the luxury SUVs that are infiltrating today’s automotive industry. Inspired by the no-frills 4X4 vehicles of the past, but improved with fresh thinking and modern innovation, the Grenadier is made to take its driver anywhere. It’s proved by the extensive testing processes undertaken to ensure the vehicle’s robustness.

The car has been driven over one million miles on a plethora of terrains, be it on the deserts of the UAE, the ice of the Arctic, the mountains of Austria, the gravel of South Africa, the sandy beaches of Australia or even as a support vehicle for its WorldTour team during Grand Tours.

We can draw parallels between the meticulous planning and continuous search for incremental improvements which has gone into the creation of the Grenadier 4X4

with the INEOS Grenadiers themselves, and team boss Sir Dave Brailsford’s famed ‘marginal gains’ approach. In fact, while it may seem unlikely at first glance, this partnership between a cycling team and game-changing 4X4 vehicle goes further than just a sponsorship agreement.

CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO

Since its inception in 2010, when it was then known as Team Sky, Brailsford’s squad has never been afraid to do things differently. Their ability to innovate has won them seven Tour de France titles and a further five Grand Tour victories, impressively with a multitude of different riders, many who they developed from grassroots talent. It’s fair to say that there was a period in cycling history utterly dominated by the British team, who shook up a traditional sport by bursting onto the scene with science, technology and an awareness of the need for fresh thinking.

With the emergence of talent like Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič and teams such as Jumbo-Visma who have steadily caught up with the advancements that Team Sky themselves pioneered, the INEOS Grenadiers have had tougher competition in Grand Tours. Egan Bernal was the last rider to take the yellow jersey home for the British team, and since 2019, they’ve been unable to win La Grande Boucle. But, as history tells us, INEOS Grenadiers isn’t a team which sits back to accept defeat.

In 2022, we’ve seen a fresh approach as Brailsford has signed a wealth of new, young talent who have burst onto the scene and shaken up the racing style. The team’s shift in focus has seen them tear up races like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, with Dylan van Baarle taking the win in the Hell of the North this year. It was a victory which came after INEOS split the race in the early stages – normally unheard of in Roubaix which usually sees the peloton riding steady until the first cobbled sector of the day – described by Bradley Wiggins as “typical Dave Brailsford, ripping up the script.”

The team’s ability to spot talent is another key factor in their success. 20-year-old Ben Tulett is one example of a rider who INEOS Grenadiers signed at the start of the season and is already proving himself to be a future Grand Tour contender. Riding the Giro d’Italia for the first time this year, he finished fifth in both time trial stages and rode as a key domestique for Richard Carapaz who finished second overall in the race.

“It’s been an amazing start to the year for me,” Tulett explained as we spoke in Andorra, fresh off his drive in the Grenadier. “I just went into the Giro with an open mind, you never know what to expect, especially for my first Grand Tour. I didn’t set myself any stupid targets. I just wanted to get the best out of myself and to be consistent throughout the three weeks.” 

Bringing riders like Tulett to the team is part of Brailsford’s master plan to return the INEOS Grenadiers to the team’s former glory. Tulett is a young rider with huge potential who can learn from the older riders in the team, while at the same time, new talent like him puts some positive upward pressure on the more experienced riders to keep performing.

It’s a clear, well-defined plan that fits in to the team’s proven track record of strategising, seeing areas that need to be improved and acting on it through a methodical approach.

Similarities can be drawn between this and the development of the Grenadier 4X4 that the riders proudly represent on their jerseys. When the development of the vehicle was in motion, the team in charge of developing the Grenadier pursued a fresh perspective on 4X4 development and manufacturing. It’s a vehicle which the company describes as “consciously counter-trend”, the idea for it stemming from Ratcliffe himself having his eyes and ears open for an opportunity to fill a gap in the market.

Just like the INEOS Grenadiers cycling team did when it first entered the scene, the Grenadier 4X4 will shake up an industry which has long been stuck in tradition.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL

The INEOS Grenadiers cycling team’s approach to finding every incremental gain is also a trait that they share with the team who developed the Grenadier 4X4.

In January 2021, INEOS acquired a state-of-the-art facility in Hambach from Mercedes-Benz where they would eventually begin production of the Grenadier 4X4 this year. Along with the facility came an experienced workforce who had a proven track record of high quality output.

With this, the Grenadier benefits from the latest technology and is created by those who, simply, know best. When bringing an entirely new automotive brand to market, consumer trust is of utmost importance, so awareness that the Grenadier is being built by those who have world-leading expertise and meticulous attention to detail cements the car’s position as a leader in its respective market.

Ensuring that the best of the best are working on the project in question is an ethos that Brailsford and the INEOS Grenadiers share, too. “This team operates on such a bigger level than other teams. It’s one of the biggest-budget teams in cycling and that’s really cool as there are so many extra people about, it just blew my mind at first,” Tulett says. “You see all these people putting in 100 per cent and it really makes you want to give 100 per cent.”

Plapp had a similar reaction when he joined the squad at the start of this year, too. “This team does all the one-percenters but it’s crazy how far they go and how much they do help,” he explains. “Being in a team like this makes you want to get better too.” 

The unwavering support that the INEOS Grenadiers offers riders and the lengths they go to in order to ensure riders are able to perform at their best makes it one of the most desirable teams in the WorldTour to be a part of. From nutritionists to team doctors to coaches, mechanics and everything in between, no corners are cut in the running of the British squad.

It’s what attracted Pavel Sivakov to the team in 2017 when he was one of the most sought after under-23 riders in the world after winning prestigious races like the U23 Giro d’Italia. “For me it was like a dream team. When I joined it was still Team Sky and I was watching G and Wiggins, all these guys winning the Tour. When I got an offer from the team, my decision was made straight away,” he says.

Tulett, too, had plenty of options on the table when it came to WorldTour squads, but it was the vast support network that INEOS Grenadiers offered that made them the team for him. “I’m based here in Andorra, we have a coach here, we have someone here for massages. Also now a doctor is living here. so we really feel looked after,” says the 20-year-old.

“I think we know when we get on the bike that everyone’s given 100 per cent for you to do it. That makes a big difference in allowing you to get the most out of yourself. This team has proved it year after year, it’s about high performance.”

RELIABILITY TO PERFORM EVERYWHERE

season. A place on INEOS Grenadiers is so desirable that there is inevitably pressure on riders in the team already to get results which will allow them to have their contracts renewed at the end of each season.

With the age of riders performing at the highest level in the peloton getting younger and younger, being in your early 20s is becoming no excuse not to perform at the highest level, either.

“I’m the same age as the bloke who has already won the Tour de France twice,” Luke Plapp says, referencing Pogačar, “So many young guys are doing great in the sport at the moment and that adds a bit of pressure as well.” For the 21-year-old, who admits he’s a proud, patriotic Aussie, wearing his country’s national champion jersey during his first season as a professional also gave him extra motivation to perform well. “I wanted to get the jersey out there in the world. It’s the best in the peloton! I’m proud to wear the colours after so many Aussies have done so well this year,” he says.

Cycling is also changing in that riders are becoming more adept at performing on a range of terrain. Two-time Tour winner Pogačar is a rider who can finesse the cobbles, win on mountain-top finishes and take victory in time trials. Eight-time Tour de France stage winner Wout van Aert is similar, as is twice Tour of Flanders champion Mathieu van der Poel. It’s becoming harder for riders to specialise in one discipline, which means there are even greater demands on riders to be all-rounders. “The racing is changing,” admits Sivakov. “You see it becoming more aggressive.”

Like the riders themselves, the Grenadier 4 x4 is a vehicle which needs to be depended on to do the job, regardless of the situation it’s thrown into. Reliability was a key pillar of Ratcliffe’s vision when he embarked on the mission to create the vehicle.

After its extensive testing regime, the Grenadier 4X4 has come to market with a variety of characteristics that ensure it fits this bill. It starts with the heart of the car: the engines. A choice of two straight-six, 3.0-litre BMW engines provide powerful acceleration on tarmac while also delivering peak torque at low revs for off-road performance, so it’s comfortable to drive regardless of the terrain. 

The chassis also offers high ground clearance, while a high engine air intake means that the engine breathes in less dust and dirt. Outwardly, the Grenadier is designed to be robust, too, described as a “capable off-road workhorse”. The foundation of the car is a box-sectioned ladder frame chassis which is simple, strong and stable, designed to withstand regular punishment in any conditions.  Heavy-duty beam axles are also key for tackling extreme off-road terrain and carrying heavy loads. 

INEOS Automotive’s partnership with the Halo Trust – the world’s largest human- itarian mine clearance and weapons disposal organisation – has also been a key factor in the vehicle’s development. As the Halo Trust operates more than 600 4X4 vehicles in some of the most remote places on the planet, seeing how drivers cope with the landscapes and fix vehicles in challenging conditions was key to the team creating the Grenadier.

Adding in the underride protection which includes front and rear skid plates as well as fuel tank protection – plus the powder coat finish on the chassis which protects the Grenadier against stone chips and off-road scrapes – and it’s a vehicle which can be relied on anywhere, just like the cyclists who represent it in the professional peloton.

EXISTING IN HARMONY

Subtly, the connection that the Grenadier 4X4 has with the INEOS Grenadiers cycling team is apparent in the vehicle. The steering wheel features a toot button: a light and friendly warning horn for alerting cyclists of the car passing or manoeuvring. There are also a plethora of features that make the car a good addition to the lifestyle of a cyclist.

“Living in Andorra, it’s the perfect car in the winter as it’s not the best weather here. You can take it anywhere, and you’re going to be pretty safe,” says Tulett. “You can chuck a bike in the back and a suitcase. You can easily drive down to the airport comfortably so it’s a pretty perfect vehicle.”

Lockable storage in the spare wheel on the rear of the vehicle is an ideal cubby hole for wet kit or valuables, while heavy-duty flooring and seat covers will also prevent the wear and tear of the car if dirty bikes or equipment get thrown inside. “It’s a car that’s made for outdoor activities so you know when you put your bike in you know the car is durable enough that nothing will break or scratch in there,” explains Sivakov.

A full-size roof rack system and side runners which allow easy access to the roof from vehicle sides is also an asset when travelling with bikes, developed while the Grenadier 4X4 acted as a support vehicle during the team’s two Giro d’Italia victories. “I think if I had it in Aus when I go back for off season it would be the perfect thing. A 4X4 in Aus would be a dream, I think that’s what every Australian dreams of doing, having a dog and a 4X4,” Plapp laughs.

Above all, the partnership that the INEOS Grenadiers have with the team that created the Grenadier 4X4 is a good example of teams and sponsors working together. In every race, the riders aim to take with them the ethos that has gone into creating the vehicle: pushing limits to reach the best performance with a plan that is reliable enough not to fail.

It was clear from Plapp, Sivakov and Tulett’s reactions as they drove deep into the Andorran countryside that the Grenadier 4X4 has the opportunity to open up a world of exploration to many off-road. It takes its passengers off the beaten path, inspiring people to go beyond what they thought was possible, just as the INEOS Grenadiers do each time they pin a race number on their jerseys.