Ineos Grenadiers is still swinging for the fences in the final hours of the Tour de France despite riding toward Paris in a very unfamiliar situation.
With team captain Egan Bernal sitting on the sidelines following his early exit, the defending Tour champions pivoted toward racing in a way it hasn’t done in franchise history.
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- Tour de France stage 18: Michał Kwiatkowski gets the win for Ineos Grenadiers
Instead of carrying yellow into Paris, the team is fighting for other spoils.
Luke Rowe, a rider typically riding flank of the yellow jersey this late in the Tour, was unleashed Friday. The Ineos Grenadiers veteran, the oldest on the current Tour lineup who joined in 2012, took full advantage.
“It’s nice to keep that going, since losing our GC guy,” Rowe said. “It’s nice to be on the offensive. It’s my first time in six years on a flat stage like this that my shackles are off. It was good fun.”
Rowe was spicing things up late to try to drop the sprinters, but carried team honor with seventh in the bunch sprint.
Such is the new reality for Ineos Grenadiers. The team came into the Tour riding high, winning seven of the past eight yellow jerseys with four different riders.
Team captain Bernal, however, was on the back foot from early in the race. He managed to come out of the Pyrénées even on real time with Primož Roglič — they were separated by 21 seconds based on time bonuses — but Bernal struggled Puy Mary. Bernal tumbled out of contention Sunday at Grand Colombier and abandoned this week.
Rivals took notice quickly that Bernal didn’t have the look of a Tour winner in 2020.
“We could tell pretty early that Bernal was not looking so sharp,” said Jumbo-Visma’s Sep Kuss. “We knew by the Pyrénées that it was [UAE-Emirates’ Tadej] Pogačar who was the most dangerous rival.”
With Bernal gone, Ineos Grenadiers rode on pride and delivered a home run Thursday. Michal Kwiatkowski won the stage and Richard Carapaz claimed the King of the Mountains jersey as the pair rode 1-2 across the line in an emotional display.
Carapaz has one more battle for Ineos Grenadiers in Saturday’s time trial.
The Ecuadorian is just two points ahead of Pogačar in the polka-dot jersey standings, leading with 74 to Pogačar’s 72.
He needs a strong ride Saturday to defend the dots and become Ecuador’s first King of the Mountain’s winner.
“Tomorrow is going to be a key day for us,” Carapaz said. “I will try to defend the [KoM] title because that’s the most important thing.”
Points will be awarded based on the fastest time up the final climb — not the time on the stage. That means he can use the shootout between Primož Roglič and Pogačar for the yellow-jersey to his advantage.
Roglič will start Saturday with a 57-second head start on Pogačar, meaning both of the Slovenians will be going full-gas for the stage. In contrast, the only time that matters for Carapaz is the final charge up to the summit, so he can pace himself slowly in the rolling approach to the climb, while his King of the Mountains’ rivals are going all-in for the yellow jersey.
With points of 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1 waiting for the top finishers, it will be close. A tie goes to the rider with the best finishing position Saturday.
So do the math, and Carapaz needs to finish at least one place ahead of Pogačar to safely carry the polka dots into Paris. Roglič, with 67 points, could play spoiler if he wins the stage and the others fail to earn points to cover the gap.
“I am feeling good, and we are planning a time trial accordingly to try to get as many points as possible to maintain the jersey,” Carapaz said. “Tomorrow we’ll do everything we can to get those necessary points to carry the jersey to Paris.”
It’s a very different ending for Ineos Grenadiers than one they imagined three weeks ago. One has a feeling this Tour story is a one-off.