GENOVA, Italy (VN) – Watching Ineos Grenadiers setting the pace on the front of the Giro d’Italia peloton as it tackled what have hitherto been the race’s biggest climbing tests on Mount Etna and the Blockhaus, it seemed like nothing less than the latest iteration of Team Sky, a host of powerful riders setting the tempo for a clear and undisputed leader, in this case, Richard Carapaz when before it would have been Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas.
Yet, this is a team that has undergone significant transition over the past two seasons, investing more in young talent and, what’s more, giving those young talents the opportunity not only to learn, but also to lead at some of the biggest races in the calendar.
“We went on a journey with a core group, and now it’s about regenerating that group,” the team’s deputy principal Rod Ellingworth tells VeloNews. “Now we’re going on that journey again, with another core group.”
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Ellingworth says that that sense of renewal can be seen in other ways too, based on what he suggests is a change of atmosphere within the team founded on a more democratic approach to management and goal-setting. He points to their performance at the Giro as evidence to back this up.
“The guys are all going well here, and the way that they’re riding together as a team is fantastic. They’re having a good time with it as well. There’s a good atmosphere within the team, which, to be honest, there has been across the whole squad this year, a real sense of drive,” Ellingworth affirms.
“We really invested over the winter in rebuilding the team. It had been a couple of years since the team had been properly together, due to COVID and other things. But we really went to town when we got the whole team in one place for a few days, really invested in we’ve called ‘the people program’. It’s about establishing who we are, what we stand for, what direction do we want to go in, and what we want to do,” he explains.
“It’s not about [team principal] Dave Brailsford or myself saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ It’s about everybody else in the team, about finding out their desires and dreams – the riders, staff, everybody. So we did a lot of work and it’s really brought the team together and it feels pretty good,” says Ellingworth.
‘The young guys we’ve bought in this year have given real energy, upward pressure’
This might all sound a little or even a lot like management hokum, but Ineos’s results coupled with the emergence of some of the most dynamic talents in the sport offer considerable substance to support Ellingworth’s words. They’ve taken 21 victories this season, including Paris-Roubaix, the Amstel Gold Race and the overall title at Itzulia Basque Country.
Several have come thanks to startling performances by riders either still in their teens or not long all that long out of them, including Magnus Sheffield, Ben Tulett, Carlos Rodríguez, Luke Plapp and Ethan Hayter. 22-year-old Yorkshiremen Tom Pidcock and Ben Turner have stood out too.
“The young guys who we’ve bought in this year have given it real energy, upward pressure. They’ve fitted in so well. We also went to town on onboarding these guys properly, and really looking after them in a slightly different way to what we have done in the past,” Ellingworth explains.
During the Sky years, the team was criticized for the way that it failed to bring through young riders, although Ellingworth says in defense that this was down to the fact that the initial core that lifted the team to the top of the sport was already well-formed when the British team was launched.
“The center of the team was built with riders who had gone through the academy in the British system, so they drove the culture within the team. And I think it’s just the natural thing to sit with them for as long as we could, because they were our main investment,” he says.
“But now there’s a change taking place. We’ve had fantastic champions in this team. Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal are obviously still here, but Froomey and Brad and other guys who helped create who we were have moved on.”
Ellingworth picks out Tulett, who is excelling on his grand tour debut in support of Carapaz, to illustrate this new look.
“He’s here to do his job within the team, because we believe he’s good enough, and at the same time he’s learning to win. He’s a great example of the lads we’ve brought in,” Ellingworth asserts.
“These guys are a different generation to 10 or 15 years ago. When we first started looking at this team and put it together, it was in a slightly different world. I think the sport’s now in a really good and healthy position. As for these young lads, if you think back to 10 years ago, they wouldn’t have been able to get the coaching or the nutritional advice you can now. They’re intelligent lads, they’ve read a lot and that’s why they’re more advanced than they were 10-15 years ago. They’re showing that now and it’s great – I love it.”
Asked if Tulett could be the next British contender for grand tour titles, Ellingworth says the potential is there, but other key factors have to be found and developed.
“I always say to Geraint that you would never thought he was going win the Tour when he was 18, 19, 20. We knew he was a really good bike rider, but not that kind of bike rider. When I think about what he’s good at – his commitment, his drive, his dedication, his grit, the fight he’s got – I can see that these lads have those qualities as well, the likes of Ben, Magnus Sheffield, Tom Pidcock, Ben Turner. We’ve got a whole array of really good kids who are committing really well. And then look at Egan. He’s still only a young man, one who’s had a huge accident, one where he nearly died. His fight at the minute to try and come back is phenomenal. It’s quite scary actually, you’ve got to hold him back to an extent. He’s only a young guy too, so it’s pretty exciting really.
Playing the Giro ‘long game’
Turning back to the immediate goal of winning the Giro for the third year in succession, Ellingworth says that Ineos has played things fairly conservatively because this first grand tour of the season is always so stacked with difficulties in its third week.
“You’ve always got to play the long game and I don’t think the racing’s really got going yet because we’ve only had a couple of big days. The guys are sort of just waiting for the right moment, but it’s quite clear that Richard is in good nick. I think he’s raced really well so far,” says Ellingworth.
“I think the race will come down to the three who were on the Blockhaus together – Richard, Mikel Landa and Romain Bardet. I’m not sure which one it will be who’ll win, but I hope we’ll be there or thereabouts. Saturday’s stage in Turin is going to be a big day, the start of the Giro’s finale, a super hard day. Sunday’s summit finish at Cogne is obviously a big day. Then we’re into the back end of the race, the bit we all look forward to at the Giro.”