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Matt White, sport director at rival Mitchelton-Scott, said no one should be shocked if that’s what happens.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they did leave him out,” White said during an SBS podcast. “It’s going to be a tricky one to manage because you’ve got the last three winners of the Tour de France all in the same team: Froome is trying to get that elusive number five, Geraint Thomas won two years ago and was solid last year in a Tour that was altered in the final week, and then Egan Bernal is the next star of our sport.”
Team Ineos refused to comment to VeloNews on rumors that Froome might be left off the Tour team, only saying that the Tour selection would be made around the time of the Critérium du Dauphiné in mid-August.
Public statements from other Ineos staffers suggest that the four-time Tour-winner Froome is likely to be selected to race the Tour, but his presence has not yet been officially confirmed.
Just weeks ahead for the race, Team Ineos is over-flowing with potential Tour captains, so there is speculation that Froome could be the odd man out.
As White pointed out, having Froome, Bernal, and Thomas all elbowing for leadership could cause fractures within the team’s playbook and create an opening for rivals. In the past, Team Ineos has ridden well as a block, but the uncertainty of Froome’s condition following his return from injury coupled with his high-profile move to Israel Start-Up Nation for 2021 could cause some tension.
As reported by VeloNews, Froome joined his teammates this week at a high-altitude training camp at Tenerife ahead of a return to racing next month. Froome is expected to race the Tour de l’Ain and the Critérium du Dauphiné before the Tour, though team officials have not finalized the pre-Tour racing schedules for its clutch of GC stars.
White said he sees two complications: first, Froome’s condition. Though it appears he’s recovered well from his horrific crash in last year’s Dauphiné, Froome has only raced in the truncated UAE Tour before the coronavirus stopped racing. So Froome’s legs remain untested in race conditions.
“All Team Ineos cares about is winning the Tour de France,” White said. “They’re certainly quite good at removing emotion from their decisions, and I think it will depend on how Chris Froome’s coming back into racing.”
The other issue is leadership. With all three capable of winning, and with only eight riders per team, there is a risk that the team might be short-handed in key moments if its three leaders are still racing for their chances instead of working for the strongest on the team.
“Two leaders is possible. I think three leaders does complicate things,” White said. “Someone’s got to work, and when you’ve got three leaders in a team like that, it’s going to be a tricky one to manage.”
Teams have been known to leave off riders from grand tours when word gets out that someone is joining a new team for the next season. In that context, teams sometimes don’t want to give up points to riders who are leaving or take away opportunities for riders who are staying.
Froome’s situation will be highly unique. He’ll be chasing history in the quest for a fifth yellow jersey, something that would also reflect nicely on Team Ineos’s legacy even if Froome will be racing on a new team in 2021. Yet Froome’s ambitions might not line up with that of team principal Dave Brailsford.
If Froome is healthy and fit to race at his full potential, smart money says he will race the Tour. The final decision lies with Brailsford and Ineos management.