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Tour de France

Crunch time for Ineos Grenadiers as Tour de France hits the high mountains

'It’s not just about riding around so we’ll use every trick in the book to try and tactically win the race,' says Rod Ellingworth.

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With three riders inside the top-ten heading into the first proper Alpine stage of this year’s Tour de France, the Ineos Grenadiers squad are well played to mount a serious bid for the yellow jersey.

Standing in their way, the unshakeable figure of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) who not only has a healthy lead over the British team but has also never cracked in a grand tour.

Heading into stage 11 and the summit finish to the top of the Col de Granon, Geraint Thomas sits fourth at 1:17, with Adam Yates fifth at 1:25, and Tom Pidcock eighth at 1:46. There’s no forgetting that last year’s runner-up, Jonas Vingegaard, is ahead of the British trio at 39 seconds, but Pogačar remains the man to beat.

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The Slovenian’s team has certainly taken a knock in recent days with two riders out with COVID-19 and another, Rafal Majka, positive but asymptomatic. In a numbers game Ineos and Jumbo Visma would surely come out on top but Pogačar, according to Thomas, is the best rider of his generation, better than Nibali and Contador, apparently, and he will take some beating if Ineos are to end their drought of Tour wins.

“We’re in a good position at the minute and it’s all to play for,” Rod Ellingworth told VeloNews

“With Tom clearly coming into the race it was gaining that experience to live and breathe the Tour every single day. Then he’s a winner and he wants to win so he’s looking at the potential of a stage win. It’s a bonus where he is at the moment, and they’re all getting on well as a group. Perhaps it’s one of our best groups that we’ve had at the Tour as a unit.”

Pidcock has certainly impressed with his durability and consistency but Ineos are not at the Tour de France to win the team classification or see Pidcock ride to a solid top-ten in Paris. This a team that dominated the Tour from 2012 to 2019 with just one blip in 2014.

“We’ve come here to try and win the race,” said Ellingworth.

“That’s what we want to do. It’s not just about riding around so we’ll use every trick in the book to try and tactically win the race. Pogačar is one of the best we’ve seen across the board but he is human and everyone can be beat at some point. Geraint is going well, Adam is going well, and Tom is going well. You’ve just got to seize your moment. If he has no issues then it’s going to be tough to beat Pogačar but he’s got to have a good team around him. There are several ways but the lads just have to be ready.”

Thomas currently leads the way for Ineos in terms of the GC standings but several months ago it wasn’t even clear if the former winner would make the Tour team. Dani Martinez and Adam Yates were designated leadership roles after Egan Bernal’s terrible accident, while Thomas appeared to be relegated to the fringes of the discussion. What a difference a few weeks has made.

Since a solid but not spectacular ride in April at the Tour de Romandie the Welshman has found his best form in years. He won a Tour de Suisse in which Yates caught COVID and Martinez looked out of sorts, and bar the clothing gaff in the opening time trial, has rarely put a foot wrong in this year’s race. Ellingworth believes that Thomas is now putting out better numbers than he did during his Tour win four years ago, which is a startling statement when you consider how much the competition has moved in such a short space of time.

“He’s as good as I’ve ever seen him. He’s moved on physically since he’s won the Tour and that’s brilliant. Then you think about his experience and what he’s offering to others on the team. He’s really good on the bus and we talked about that a lot at the start of the year, that he helps out.”