Just as they take on a new name and new jersey for this year’s Tour, Team Ineos Grenadiers is abandoning its trademark “let the road decide” strategy to determining team leadership and is stacking its bets on Bernal.
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While Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz was brought in as a late addition to bolster the squad in replacement for past winners Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, the Colombian sits firmly in the leader’s chair and at the head of a new chapter for the team.
“Egan’s the out and out leader, he deserves the right to be the leader, he won last year,” team manager David Brailsford said in a pre-race press conference on Friday. “He’s a brilliant rider, a great talent, and mature beyond his years. We’ll start the race very much with Egan as outright leader of the team and support him fully in that.”
The young Colombian goes into his yellow jersey defense citing Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič as the man to mark, saying the Slovenian was “flying” during the pre-Tour preparation races.
Both Roglič and Bernal abandoned ahead of the final stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this month, with Roglič crashing and Bernal suffering back problems. The two top-favorites for the Tour are still battling the consequences of the dramas at the Dauhpiné, with Roglič taking to the team presentation Thursday with gauze protecting his road rash, and Bernal still suffering.
“I still get a bit of pain in the back,” Bernal admitted Friday. “I’m much better than I was in the Dauphiné, in the Dauphiné I was really badly in pain, but I’m getting better. During the whole Tour, I’ll be working hard to mend the back and to recover, especially for the last week.”
New name and faces, same old knowledge
Bernal’s persistent injury is a symptom of the tricky August they faced battling against the rising might of Roglič and Jumbo-Visma.
While the team has reassembled itself around Bernal and Carapaz having made the shock decision to leave Froome and Thomas at home, Brailsford and his Ineos eight will be treading new water as it starts the Tour without a British leader for the first time in its 10-year history. The team boss was keen not to dwell on the tricky topic of past champions Thomas and Froome, instead placing his focus on the present.
“You don’t look backwards, we had a lot of success over the years and learned a lot together,” Brailsford said of the leaders that have netted his five Tours de France. “We had a tremendous experience together, but you look at the current situation and look forward.”
Along with the absence of established and experienced leaders Froome and Thomas, Ineos will be without the racecraft of sport director Nico Portal, who passed away in March. While Brailsford spoke at length at his sadness of the Frenchman’s death, he was confident in the collective experience of his squad to continue the success masterminded by Portal.
“We’ve put another structure in place and we’re very confident in that,” Brailsford said. “While we’re very mindful and respectful of Nicolas, we’re looking to what we’ve got now, to the future.”
“What we do have is that we’ve won this race more than any other team, our riders are more experienced and have done more grand tours than any other team, and the collective knowledge about how to win the Tour de France in this team is greater than anywhere else.”
Racing over three weeks
Just as the faces leading the charge for Team Ineos take a different look at this summer’s Tour, the race itself has a whole new complexion.
With coronavirus still hanging heavy over the race, many are fearful that the peloton won’t see Paris on September 20. While Brailsford was confident that the health and safety measures established by event organizers ASO were as robust as they could be, he conceded that every day could be the race’s last due to a sudden shutdown.
However, just as Team Sky/Ineos Grenadiers has succeeded by winning over three weeks in the past, Brailsford plans to continue to do the same in this year’s unprecedented Tour.
“The only thing that is clear is that we don’t know if the race will make it to Paris,” he said. “No one knows. But we are going to race it like it is a three-week race …. a complete race. We’re not going to play with the idea that the race may be cut short. For us, it’s a race of three weeks.”