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Tour de France

Former Team Sky director questions Bernal’s Tour de France form and Ineos Grenadiers’ tactics

Sean Yates suggests Ineos is stuck in rut of using old strategy that isn't effective against stronger opponents.

Veteran sport director and former Team Sky staffer Sean Yates has called out Ineos Grenadiers’ misfiring Tour de France tactics.

In an interview published in L’Equipe on Saturday, Yates questioned his former team’s “strange” tempo-setting strategy and cast doubts over the strength of defending champion Egan Bernal.

The British squad has looked to take the battle to powerful rivals Jumbo-Visma on key climbing stages through the race. However, faced with a Dutch squad packed with climbing talent and red-hot team leader Primož Roglič,  Ineos has been repeatedly outmuscled in the mountains.

The move most recently backfired Friday, with Ineos doing much of the pace-setting early in the day to set up Bernal, only to see their leader distanced in the final kilometer by flying Slovenian duo Roglič and Tadej Pogacar.

“Ineos came to the Tour thinking Bernal was the strongest rider in the peloton,” Yates told l’Equipe. “Setting the tempo is useful when you have the strongest rider – the faster the pace you go, the bigger the gaps they can create in the end. But the best rider is Primož Roglič. He’s flying.”

Throughout both the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour so far, Roglič has proven himself to be consistently rock-solid in the mountains with a finishing kick that can easily gain yards on gangly climbers. Alongside him, countryman Pogačar has risen to be the most aggressive and explosive when the road tilts upward. The pair’s joint move on the Puy Mary on Friday left Bernal third in GC, 59 seconds behind Roglič.

“The level has increased,” Yates said in Saturday’s l’Equipe. “With each stage, climbing speeds are bettered, but it seems Bernal hasn’t followed that trend. I question the effect that lockdown in Colombia has had on him, and on the quality of his training … We should question his preparation”

Yates worked with Team Sky from 2010 to 2012 before getting in the director’s chair at NFTO and then Tinkoff Saxo before retiring in 2016. The Brit was in the Team Sky set-up when it began to refine its Tour-dominating tactic of swamping the front of long climbs and cranking the tempo to prevent attacks.

Yates suggested that Ineos Grenadiers is still employing a similar tactic without the personnel to back it up.

“I think they’re so used to controlling others in a race that they’re struggling to do anything different,” he said. “When you’ve won so many times, changing is hard. When your team has three leaders, as should have been the case last year [Bernal, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome], making the race hard to weaken rivals is logical.

“But Ineos came to this Tour with one leader, who isn’t at the level required. They should follow the wheels rather than using their energy needlessly.”