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In his famous raid over the Colle delle Finestre, Froome went on a solo, 80km breakaway that won him the pink jersey with a performance that continues to resonate across the peloton and grate critics.
Flash forward one year, and the team has swapped Sky for Ineos. And instead of riding to defend pink with Froome, the team brought a Giro squad loaded with young, unproven talent.
Prince-in-waiting Egan Bernal was a late non-starter due to injury, so in his steed, Ineos packed off to Bologna a youthful team looking to earn their stripes. And on Friday’s first real mountain stage, Russian talent Pavel Sivakov boldly pedaled into the frame.
The 21-year-old Russian stayed with the Giro “bigs” and earned a trip to the podium to snag the best young rider’s white jersey.
Just call it Sky/Ineos Version 3.0.
“Today we saw something very special for Pavel,” said sport director Nicolas Portal. “We came here with a very young team, and they have a great future. That’s why we are here, and today they showed it to the world.”
If Bradley Wiggins encapsulated the initial ambitions in the original Sky rollout, Chris Froome became the face of Sky 2.0, the grand-tour machine. Froome has won four editions of the Tour de France, one Vuelta a España, and last year, one very dramatic edition of the Giro.
It’s the likes of Bernal, Sivakov, Eddy Dunbar, who was third in Thursday’s stage, and Tao Geoghegan Hart, who crashed out Friday, who represent the future of the team.
If Froome and 2018 Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas are the here and now, team boss Dave Brailsford is clearly thinking about the future of the franchise. Twelve of Ineos’s 29 riders are 25 years old or younger.
At this Giro, six of the “Giro eight” are 25 or younger. Sivakov and Geoghegan Hart rode last year’s Vuelta. Dunbar, Jonathan Narvaéz and Ivan Sosa are GT rookies all making their respective grand tour debuts.
This year’s Giro team is in sharp contrast to last year’s, when Froome came to Italy to race for the win. Last year’s Sky squad was loaded with experienced riders to help Froome deliver the come-from-behind victory that stunned the peloton and turned the race upside down.
Salvatore Puccio, a salty veteran at 29 compared to his young teammates, had a front-row seat to Froome’s dramatic solo breakaway.
“Last year, Chris made the magical race to smash the Giro,” Puccio said. “When Chris made the plan the day before, it was a bit of surprise. We thought maybe it was too big to think this, to think that we were going to make a big plan to smash the race. Chris delivered. That stage was just incredible. It changed all of the GC, and it’s something that you will remember all of life.”
If last year Puccio and Christian Knees, another member of last year’s Giro-winning team, were racing for pink, this year is quite different.
Knees, a 38-year-old veteran racing his 20th grand tour, said Ineos is planting the seeds of future success at this Giro. He’s been acting like a Scout leader, making sure his young disciples are staying out of trouble and doing the right things.
“We are a young team, and they are here to learn,” Knees said. “They are sitting well in the bunch. Sometimes they do not race like they are so young. They are learning quickly.”
That Brailsford would start to plan for the future comes as no surprise. It typically takes a rider several years to learn the dynamics of racing in a grand tour. For every young promise that comes through the ranks, only a few truly develop into grand tour potential. With Froome turning 34 this week, and Thomas turning 33 on Saturday, Brailsford isn’t wasting any time.
Planting the seeds
Even before the shocking news that Sky was leaving as title sponsor at the end of 2019, Brailsford was already planting seeds for the future.
Going into last season, he had quietly picked up the highly touted Sivakov, Dunbar, Kristoffer Halvorsen (Joker), Chris Lawless (Axeon Hagens Berman) as well as Bernal, who has turned out to be a diamond in the rough. Over the winter, Brailsford snatched up Sosa, Narvaéz and Filippo Ganna (UAE-Emirates).
Having that kind of investment in the future was a key selling point to Ineos to convince the UK petrochemical company for signing on as title sponsor.
In many ways, this Giro was supposed to be Bernal’s big coming out party as the protected leader in a grand tour for the first time. Instead, the Colombian crashed just days before the race started, and is expected to race the Tour in support of Froome and Thomas.
Bernal’s exit changed the focus of Ineos for the Giro, meaning that the riders would have more chances to race for themselves.
Portal said it’s been a challenge to try to remind the young and ambitious racers to bide their time during a flat, uneventful first half of what’s a back-loaded Giro.
“This group is really young, and we’ve been holding them back,” Portal said. “We’ve been telling them to think about the second week, the third week. Now they can see, oh it is really a different kind of Giro.”
Sivakov stepped up in a big way Friday, riding into the white jersey and punching into the top-10 overall.
“It was indeed a good stage for me,” Sivakov said. “I was able to stay with the big guys on the last climb, so it was amazing for me. I don’t know what my limit is. I will take it day by day. If it keeps going like this, maybe the top-10.”
The future is now for Ineos. Remember these names. They’ll be carrying the weight of cycling’s richest team in the not-so-very-far future.