Team Ineos boss Dave Brailsford has been planning for this moment for years.
Yet Brailsford had been patiently building the blocks of the team’s future over the past several seasons.
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And all the behind-the-scenes recruiting and reshuffling of the Ineos deck will come to fruition later this month as Egan Bernal emerges as the team’s present and future.
In 2020, it’s all-in for Bernal.
“It’s a bit strange not to have ‘G’ and ‘Froomey’ in the Tour,” Bernal said Wednesday. “We are a young team, but also with the experience. It’s a good balance.”
Rumors and speculation had been building for weeks about the team’s potential Tour eight-rider selection.
With Froome’s move to Israel Start-Up Nation on a multi-year deal in 2021, it was obvious that Ineos and Brailsford had already recast its Tour hierarchy.
Many expected, however, that the team would see its three leaders — all former and current Tour winners — racing under team colors for one last hurrah.
Yet the numbers don’t lie, and after less-than-stellar performances in early races back following the long coronavirus race stoppage by Froome and Thomas, the die was cast. Froome is being shuttled off to the Vuelta a España, while Thomas will race the Giro d’Italia.
So much for the acrimonious scenario of on-the-road struggle for leadership between three leaders.
With the 2020 Tour selection, Bernal is king of the Ineos hill.
Coming in to support Bernal is a collection of riders who reflect the future of the team, and underscore Brailsford’s recruiting efforts to rebuild the roster over the past few years.
Changing of the guard
Only Luke Rowe, back for his sixth Tour start with the team, is from the Ineos “old-guard,” having joined then-Team Sky in 2012.
With Froome’s imminent departure to Israel Start-Up Nation, only Thomas, still under contract until 2021, remains of the original founding squad of Team Sky’s first lineup in 2010.
“It’s nice to have a firm plan in place,” Thomas said diplomatically Wednesday. “And try to get something positive out of this year.”
Brailsford isn’t shy about betting on the future.
In 2013, he pulled off a similar coup when he sent 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins off packing to the Giro, and rallied the team around Froome. The Kenya-born rider paid back the trust to deliver seven grand tour victories, including the backdated 2011 Vuelta a España, based on Brailsford’s bet.
And after struggling from his comeback from injury from his career-threatening crash in June 2019, Froome, ever the realist, admitted the obvious Wednesday.
“It’s definitely a readjustment for me, moving the goal post from the Tour to the Vuelta,” Froome said Wednesday. “I am not confident that I can really fulfill the necessary job that would be needed from me at this year’s Tour de France.”
The same scenario is playing out again, with Brailsford firmly betting the team’s present and future on the 23-year-old Colombian.
Brailsford started his rebuilding process during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Former world champion Michał Kwiatkowski, back for his fourth Tour in a team kit, joined in 2016. Besides him and Rowe, everyone else on the 2020 Tour roster is a relative newcomer.
Brailsford picked up Dylan van Baarle in 2018, and the Dutch all-rounder proved invaluable during Bernal’s inaugural win last year. Spanish diesel Jonathan Castroviejo also came across in 2018, and quickly slotted into the now-former “Fortress Froome” with ease.
Young talents usher in new chapter
Andrey Amador and 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz, a final-hour addition to the team’s Tour lineup, both joined Ineos for 2020. Those moves came as part of an acrimonious split between the riders’ agent and Movistar, and the glut of money at Brailsford’s disposal.
Both riders will race the Tour for the first time in Ineos jerseys.
The final two pieces of the Team Ineos roster are the gems of Brailsford’s recruiting effort — Bernal and Pavel Sivakov, who will also make his Tour debut later this month.
Both joined in 2018 as the most highly touted talents in the peloton. Bernal boasted some impressive numbers in his power output, while Sivakov, who came up through the BMC development team, comes from a Russian cycling pedigree.
In 2017-18, nine of Brailsford’s 15 signings during that two-year period were either riders from U23 development teams, such as Tao Geoghegan Hart and Sivakov, or very young riders, like Bernal or Eddie Dunbar, from second-tier pro squads.
Brailsford’s bet on the future paid off sooner than anyone expected. Bernal was tipped to race the Tour in 2018, and last summer delivered a historic, Colombia-first: the yellow jersey.
Brailsford’s incredible Tour de France run looks to be in good hands. He’s won seven of the past eight editions of cycling’s most important race with four different riders, a feat unrivaled in cycling history.
With the backing of British billionaire Jim Radcliffe, Bernal is under contract through 2023.
Now that Bernal is firmly at the top of the team’s hierarchy, and with the likes of Sivakov and Carapaz waiting in the wings, Brailsford has positioned the team to keep winning grand tours well into its second decade.