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Ineos Grenadiers brings strongest-ever team to the Tour de France – but remains the underdog

Ineos Grenadiers believes it has the strongest Tour lineup in its history – but can it win yellow without the strongest rider?

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Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar, take note: Ineos Grenadiers has assembled what it believes is its strongest team ever for this summer’s Tour de France.

The team’s full eight is yet to be confirmed, but Geraint Thomas, Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Richie Porte are so certain of a slot they’ve already packed their suitcases. It’s a veritable bounty of riches, and Ineos Grenadiers knows it.

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Lead sport director Gabriel Rasch believes this year’s Tour team could be the best in its 11-year history.

“I think it’s our strongest team,” Rasch said when asked to compare the 2021 Tour selection to those of the past.

“Looking at the numbers, speed, and times on the climbs, everybody has stepped up the game,” Rasch told a small media group Friday.

“There is a larger group of riders who’s able to be up there and able to fight for the win.”

The British squad knows how it feels to go into the Tour with more firepower than the rest of the bunch put together. From Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, and Porte in 2012, to Egan Bernal, Thomas, and Froome in 2018 – Team Sky / Ineos has long leveraged the strength of bulging coffers and a brimming roster.

But this year is a little different. For one of the first times in its long history at the top of the Tour, Ineos Grenadiers may not have the strongest rider in the race. Thomas, Porte, and Carapaz have all won a prestigious weeklong race in recent months.

But do any of Ineos’ three amigos have the heft to take down Pogačar or Roglič in a one-on-one?

The jury’s out.

Rasch conceded that the squad would have to rely on collective depth rather than individual brilliance this summer.

“If we can create the right scenario, definitely,” Rasch said of his riders’ chances in a mano-a-mano with their Slovenian foes.

“We have riders who have all won ground tours with Tao, “G,” Carapaz. Richie wasn’t far off last year. I think in the right scenario, we can [go one to one], yes.”

Ineos Grenadiers missing the ‘Froome factor?’

Froome was the man to beat through the majority of his rides into yellow. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Ineos Grenadiers will roll into the Tour as both the underdog and the dominant player at this year’s Tour. It will make for a rare shift from a script that has long seen Team Sky / Ineos bringing the strongest rider in the bunch to France.

Chris Froome was a pedal stroke ahead of the competition through his years of dominance over the last decade, providing Team Sky the finisher able to capitalize on the phalanx of teammates built around him.

Ineos Grenadiers knows it is missing the “Froome factor” in 2021.

“When we had Froome we had more of a clear favorite when he was on top, and it was kind of easier,” Rasch said.

“Our biggest strength is our collective strength as a group. Pogačar and Roglič have shown that they are the two best bike riders in the world at the moment. Our chance lies in the numbers.”

Pogačar proved when he batted away a swarm of Jumbo-Visma riders through the mountains last summer that he has the resilience and explosiveness to fend for himself. The 22-year-old looks just as indomitable this season with three stage races and a monument added to his trophy cabinet already this year.

While strength in depth didn’t work for Roglič and Co. last summer, the Ineos Grenadiers assault crew is hoping to fare better against Pogačar in the coming weeks.

“I think everybody can have a bad day,” Rasch said in a Zoom call. “And [Pogačar] could have a bad day. And I think another way is to outnumber him and make him work himself.”

Rasch said that Ineos Grenadiers will settle on its final Tour eight early this week.

Thomas and Carapaz are slated to lead the line, with Tour de France rookie Geoghegan Hart and Aussie veteran Porte a half-wheel back. Behind them, the likes of Rohan Dennis, Michał Kwiatkowski, Andrey Amador, Jonathan Castroviejo, Luke Rowe, and Dylan van Baarle are elbowing for the four to-be-confirmed slots.

It’s a selection that would make the rest of the peloton weak at the knees. Whether it’s enough to outrace Roglič and Pogačar remains to be seen.

The Richie Porte conundrum

LES GETS, FRANCE - JUNE 06: Richie Porte of Australia and Team INEOS Grenadiers Yellow Leader Jersey during the 73rd Critérium du Dauphiné 2021, Stage 8 a 147km stage from La Léchère-Les-Bains to Les Gets 1160m / #UCIworldtour / #Dauphiné / @dauphine / on June 06, 2021 in Les Gets, France. (Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)
Richie Porte could be the reluctant joker in Ineos Grenadiers’ pack. Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

Ineos Grenadiers is hoping to keep all of Thomas, Porte, Geoghegan Hart and Carapaz protected through the tricky opening salvo of stages in Brittany. After that, whichever rider is best placed will be handed the captain’s armband – probably last week’s Tour de Suisse champ Carapaz or Tour de Romandie winner Thomas.

There is an Australian elephant in the room, however.

Porte is arguably in the form of his life, hot off the back of victory at the Critérium du Daphiné and second overall at both Romandie and Catalunya.

The 36-year-old rejoined his former team this winter under the agreement that he would be free of pressure in three-week races. Instead, he would end his career in the role of super domestique that saw him thrive in his former spell at Team Sky when he towed Wiggins and Froome to multiple yellow jerseys.

Should Porte somehow emerge above Thomas and Carapaz on GC heading into the final week, he may have no option but to resume his long love-hate relationship with grand tour leadership.

“It’s most important for us that someone from the team wins. Richie is one of the jokers we will have up the sleeve,” Rasch said. “I think in the last week of the tour, everything will be much clearer.”

Expect at least one Ineos Grenadiers rider to be in contention for yellow in week three.

Just don’t ask which rider that might be, or if they can outspeed Roglič and Pogačar.