Team Ineos: a changing of the guard?

Are the days of this British super-team dominating the Grand Tours over? The performances of young guns like Tom Pidcock in one-day races make a good case for a change in focus for Team Ineos

During their days under the sponsorship of Sky, the popularity of Dave Brailsford’s British team varied among fans. Some loved the new scientific approach that they brought to the sport — their incessant search for marginal gains ranged from giving each rider power targets, to bringing their own mattresses to every hotel on race days. Others were not so keen.

In their heyday, the team often followed the same formation during mountain stages in Grand Tours, bringing each rider in turn to the front of the race to set a painfully high tempo on the climbs. This style of riding was undoubtedly effective, but it left millions of fans at home snoozing on the sofa, missing the fireworks and attacking racing seen in the halcyon days of the Tour.

If any rider dared to try something, they would be allowed a small gap, before being slowly and calmly reeled in by the then Team Sky train. Many of the mountain stages were turned into races of attrition — the riders who finished second or third on the podium would just be those who could cling on to the back of Sky. The team’s leader, usually Chris Froome, would be able to sit in and have plenty left in the tank to cover any late attacks in the closing kilometres

Related: The Tour de France 2021 Preview

The financial clout of Sky at the time also hampered rival teams, their budget roughly doubled that of the average WorldTour men’s team in 2017, when Froome won his fourth and final Tour de France. Perhaps the impression of the team was also impacted by Froome’s very pleasant and polite, but understated demeanour. Many felt that his careful and reserved answers in interviews reflected the robotic style of his team’s racing.

Froome is one of the great riders of our generation, but Team Sky's style of racing often made his wins formulaic

Team Ineos last took victory in the Tour de France in 2019 with Egan Bernal, when he became the youngest rider in 110 years to win the race. During that Tour, we saw glimpses of the Team Sky of years previous, but cracks were beginning to show in the armour of the team, and they didn’t always have their full roster of riders at the front when they were needed. Some may say that Bernal was lucky to win, aided when the penultimate stage was cancelled following landslides at the top of Val Thorens. Although the team clinched the victory, they were certainly not as dominant as they had been in the past, and we began to get an indication that the sport was changing.

Enter Roglic and Pogacar. The Slovenian duo took the Tour de France by storm last year, and Pogacar put an end to Ineos’s winning streak. In fact, their best place rider in the 2020 Tour was Richard Carapaz in 13th.

Related: Tadej Pogacar on winning the Tour at 22 and what the future holds

Pogacar’s victory in the Tour de France can serve as evidence that the tactic so well used by Team Ineos in the past won’t always work in today’s peloton. Team Jumbo Visma’s train in mountain stages was unfortunately reminiscent of the formation of Ineos in earlier years. UAE Team Emirates’ Pogacar, only had to sit behind and profit off their work, before snatching the yellow jersey in the closing time trial. It seems that with uber-talents like Pogacar and Roglic to compete with, Ineos’ days dominating Grand Tours may well be over.

In stages races where Pogacar and Roglic have been present, Team Ineos haven’t been able to win. At the UAE Tour, Pogacar beat Adam Yates convincingly to win the GC, similarly, he took victory in Tirreno Adriatico with Bernal trailing in fourth place overall. In Itzulia Basque country, Ineos were unable to challenge Roglic or Pogacar, as Yates ended up fourth in GC.

Related: Roglic vs Pogacar Round 1: Itzulia Basque Country 2021 Debrief 

So if they can’t keep winning Grand Tours, will Ineos change their future focus to one-day races? With talent such as Ethan Hayter, Jhonatan Narváez, Dylan van Baarle and Tom Pidcock in their roster, and Steve Cummings joining the team as a director sportif, perhaps we’ll see Ineos jerseys dominating the Classics and Monuments instead.

Brailsford has already been vocal about a change of tact for Ineos in the 2021 season, encouraging the team to race more aggressively and instinctively and it’s worked so far. Pidcock has had the most stand out results in one-day races for the team, winning Brabantse Pijl and finishing second in Amstel Gold Race and third in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. But although Pidcock has had results most consistently, the team also has strength in numbers.

Dylan van Baarle is one of Ineos' strongest riders in one-day races, proving himself in the Classics this year (Photo: William Cannarella/CorVos/SWPix)

Dylan van Baarle took an impressive solo win in Dwars door Vlaanderen and, announcing themselves as contenders for such races in the future, both Hayter and Narváez showed their form with powerful attacks throughout their Classics campaign.

Ineos’ stage racing days are by no means over, when riders like Roglic and Pogacar aren’t present, they prove themselves to be the best of the rest. In the Tour of Catalunya they took a clean sweep of the podium, and Ivan Sosa won the Tour de la Provence earlier this year. However, as opposed to previous seasons, some of their most impressive collective performances so far have been in one-day races and these weren’t through their usual, formulaic tactics. 

With riders like Pogacar lurking menacingly on their back wheels, their team for the stage races will need to take some inspiration from the aggressive style of riders like Tom Pidcock. Here’s hoping that what we’ve seen so far from the new guard in the Classics is just a taste of what we can expect from Ineos in the Grand Tours. 

Cover photo by VK/PN/Cor Vos/SWpix

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