The British super-team is hiding in plain sight. With a bench deeper than any team in the peloton, the UK powerhouse is going to be the wheel to beat in the duel for the yellow jersey.
As winners of four-straight WorldTour stage races — from the Tour de Romandie to Sunday’s Tour de Suisse — cycling’s richest team is marching confidently into France with the intention of knocking off another grand tour.
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Hot off its victory at the Giro d’Italia, making it three of the past four pink jerseys for Dave Brailsford, the team is letting it be known loud and clear that the 2020 Tour de France was a mere hiccup.
Egan Bernal might have gotten tripped up last September against the Slovenian onslaught, but both the Colombian and the team responded with stunning efficiency.
Best start in franchise history
Despite losing grip of the prized yellow tunic in 2020, the team is perhaps off to its best start in franchise history.
So far in 2021, Ineos Grenadiers has won five of the nine WorldTour races contested going into the Tour.
And what makes that statistic even more impressive is that the team won all five races with different captains.
With its seemingly endless pool of watts, the team powered to victory in Volta a Catalunya with Adam Yates. Geraint Thomas fended off challengers to win Tour de Romandie, and the improving-with-age Richie Porte bounded to victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné. In between, Bernal hung on to win the Giro, while Richard Carapaz completed the sweep in Switzerland.
Also read: Is Porte a Tour de France wildcard?
Who picked up the leftovers?
Jumbo-Visma won a tactically engaging Itzulia Basque Country with Primož Roglič, while Tadej Pogačar won at the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico.
And in what is further confirmation that the peloton is becoming a hive of have’s and have-not’s, Bora-Hansgrohe is the only other team to win a WorldTour stage race in 2021, with Max Schachmann winning Paris-Nice in March.
Strongest team in the Tour de France
Ineos Grenadiers’ “Tour Eight” remains under wraps, but with the likes of Thomas, Carapaz, Porte, and Tao Geoghegan Hart, the team should outmuscle everyone in the peloton.
Though 2018 winner Thomas will line up as captain, all four could possibly win the Tour.
Carapaz looks more explosive than ever and nearly won last year’s Vuelta a España. The two time trials will help Porte, and Geoghegan Hart just has to keep hanging in there, just like he did last October at the Giro.
No team, at least in grand tour racing, packs as many potential winners under one banner.
Some say the team’s biggest threat comes from within. If everyone starts believing they can win, the chemistry will turn to acid. On paper, there are too many generals and not enough privates.
Brailsford and Co. effectively drilled in the concept that every individual’s best chance of victory comes at helping the collective. Porte and Thomas are old friends, and Carapaz and Geoghegan Hart both obviously buy into the team’s framework. They all stand to benefit if any one of them wins the yellow jersey.
Setting up the treble
Winning the Tour won’t be easy. In fact, this year’s Tour could be the most competitive in years.
UAE Team Emirates fortified its budding fortress for Pogačar, a rider so talented he doesn’t seem to need much help. Jumbo-Visma will return with Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss to clear the way for Roglič.
Brailsford’s biggest worry right now could be that he doesn’t currently bring a guarantee to the Tour. He had one with Chris Froome, who won four out of five editions of the Tour.
Despite winning the Giro, some questions remain about Bernal and the Tour. Out with COVID-19, he won’t race the Tour until 2022. Right now, Carapaz seems poised to step up another level, and the Ecuadorian brings unbridled ambition and confidence to every race he starts.
There are scenarios for Brailsford to win the Tour with any of its four leaders.
If that happens, then the team is one step closer to pulling off the unprecedented feat of winning all three grand tours in one season.
For the Vuelta, Brailsford will bring an even more embarrassing wealth of talent, including Adam Yates, Pavel Sivakov, Tom Pidcock, and likely Bernal and Carapaz as well.
Brailsford’s not happy with seven of the past nine editions of the Tour. He’s now won three of the four past editions of the Giro, and is putting the squeeze on the Vuelta.
With the team’s radar firmly set on the Tour, it’s already planning for the Spanish grand tour.
Teams have doubled up in grand tours before, with riders like Miguel Indurain or Alberto Contador winning two grand tours in one season.
Ineos Grenadiers now is deep and so well-financed that it can field grand tour-level teams with multiple captains without relying on the singular strength of one generational rider.