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If you thought the days of the “mountain train” were over, think again.
Ineos Grenadiers is assembling its carriages in preparation for steamrollering the 2021 Tour de France.
Ineos Grenadiers will wind back the clocks at the Tour this month and unleash a Team Sky-style “mountain train” in a bid to box yellow jersey favorites Primoz Roglič and Tadej Pogačar into a corner.
- RIP the ‘Sky Train’
- Can Geraint Thomas turn Ineos Grenadiers’ attacking strategy into Tour de France glory?
“Our biggest strength is our collective strength as a group,” Ineos Grenadiers sport director Gabriel Rasch told a select media group Friday.
“Pogačar and Roglič have shown last year and this year that they are the two best bike riders in the world at the moment. And I think our chance lies in the numbers.”
Ineos Grenadiers will roll into France on June 26 with a lineup that Rasch believes could be the strongest in its 11-year history.
With the likes of Michal Kwiatkowski, Jonathan Castroviejo, and Rohan Dennis able to inflict the initial damage, Ineos Grenadiers is hoping to swarm its Slovenian foes.
“We have to work together and have a good plan how we can outmaneuver these guys,” said Rasch, who will be one of the team’s lead directors for the Tour.
Different strategies for different scenarios
Ineos Grenadiers wielded a swaggering attacking style to send Geoghegan Hart and Egan Bernal to Giro d’Italia glory in the past 12 months. It made for a sharp pivot from the script after the team had scored seven yellow jerseys in nine years by chauffeuring its leaders to victory off the back of a tempo-setting trail of superdomestiques.
Ineos Grenadiers is prepared to rebuild “Fortress Froome” in a bid to contain Pogačar and the unpredictable, unhinged racecraft the Slovenian used to usurp the squad’s spot on the Tour de France throne last year.
“Everybody can have a bad day. And he [Pogačar] could have a bad day,” Rash said. “And I think another way [to beat him] is to outnumber him and make him work himself.”
But don’t hold your head in despair yet. The attritional grind of old won’t necessarily be the team’s one and only play this summer. Instead, Ineos Grenadiers is hoping to balance offensive spectacle with attritional grind.
“You have to choose the right tactic for the right day. It could be boring stages for the old Sky tactic where you potentially defend, it can be the other way where we will be more aggressive and attack,” Rasch said on a Zoom call.
“You can’t really pick one stage and say, ‘Okay, this is the stage we’re gonna win the Tour, or lose the Tour.’ It’s small gains, small losses all the way.
“You have to pick the right plan for each stage, and be ready for both doing aggressive tactic, the defensive tactic, or in between.”
Road plays king among a bounty of riches
Old habits die hard for Ineos Grenadiers with its return to the Richie Porte-driven “mountain train” of the past decade.
The “let the road decide” approach to leadership that the team previously used to rank Thomas and Chris Froome, and then Thomas and Egan Bernal, is also being rolled back.
Rasch kept his cards to his chest when asked who would be handed the leader’s role ahead of the Grand Départ later this month.
Thomas and Carapaz head toward the Tour as co-leaders, with each offering the team a different strength for differing situations. The Norwegian staffer suggested that Ineos Grenadiers would start the Tour open to letting the racing dictate who leads the charge through the final weeks.
“After the Dauphiné and Suisse, things are much clearer. The most important thing is that we have a really clear plan going into the first four days, and they agree and are accepting their role in the race,” he said.
“We will try to go try to keep as many riders as possible high up there on GC as long as possible – and let’s see.”
With Thomas, Carapaz, and Geoghegan Hart all recent grand tour winners and Porte riding onto the podium at last year’s Tour, Ineos Grenadiers has a bounty of riches.
If anything, the squad’s biggest problem could be balancing the ambitions of its marquee riders. At 35 years old, Thomas has a contract and a future to fight for, while Carapaz and Geoghegan Hart will be looking to claim the second grand tour victory that would rubber-stamp them as the real deal rather than one-hit wonders.
Dreams come true!
Introducing a new British Grand Tour winner.
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) October 25, 2020
Team boss Dave Brailsford has handled many sticky leadership situations in the past. He may need to bring his finest reasoning skills to the team bus to iron out any potential leadership conflicts this summer.
“It’s something you have to talk about before the race, different scenarios and what to do if that happens and what to do if another thing happens,” Rasch said.
“I think making them understand that they can benefit from each other, rather than seeing each other as opponents, I think that’s the big thing. It makes one of their chances bigger to eventually win the Tour with each other than without.”
Whatever the tactics, whichever the rider, the plan remains the same for Ineos Grenadiers as it looks to return to the top of the biggest bike race in the world.
“We’re going to the Tour to win,” Rasch said. “That’s our goal. That’s our aim.”