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Vuelta a Espana

How Ineos Grenadiers’ bet on youth is paying off at the Vuelta a España

Tossato on Vuelta rookies: 'We have the whole team working to help these guys. They are the future of the team.'

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MADRID (VN) — Two weeks into the 2022 Vuelta a España, it’s not the big-name stars at Ineos Grenadiers who are carrying the team’s GC hopes into the final week.

It’s Carlos Rodríguez, the 21-year-old grand tour rookie who is poised in fifth place at the Vuelta’s third and final rest day.

At 5:16 behind race leader Remco Evenepoel, Rodríguez is within banging distance of the final podium in Madrid, and is the most consistent of the Ineos Grenadiers so far in the Spanish grand tour.

“It wasn’t my best day. There were stronger riders today. I was lucky to have all the team supporting me, without them I would have lost more time,” Rodríguez said at the summit Sunday at Sierra Nevada. “I have to be happy. It’s my first grand tour.”

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The 2022 Vuelta is packed with grand tour debutants, as many teams loaded up their rosters with young, untested riders hoping to give them a chance to test their legs and race for glory.

Ineos Grenadiers packed half of its eight-rider squad with grand tour rookies. In addition to Rodríguez, the team brought Ethan Hayter, Ben Turner and Luke Plapp.

Though Hayter pulled out with COVID-19 in the first half, all four are impressing across the Vuelta.

“We have many young riders on the team, and we brought some of them to this Vuelta to give them a chance to race a grand tour,” said Ineos Grenadiers sport director Matteo Tossato. “We have a super young group here at the Vuelta. These guys are really soaking up the race.”

The British super-team also brought Richard Carapaz, Pavel Sivakov, and Tao Geoghegan Hart as co-leaders, but all three of them have flamed out.

Carapaz wasn’t feeling great at the start, and though he’s since found his legs to win two stages, he lost so much time in the first week in Spain he’s not a GC threat. Geoghegan Hart crashed while in the top-5 and has since struggled, while Sivakov went home with COVID-19.

Dylan Van Baarle is the team’s other veteran rider, and Tosatto said the Dutchman is stepping into the mentor role across this Spanish grand tour.

“Dylan Van Baarle is the teacher at this race. He knows so much about positioning and moving in the peloton, and he’s really helping the young guys,” Tossato told VeloNews. “Tao and Pavel are also sharing what they know, and Richie also knows it takes to race across three weeks. It’s a nice mix, with young and experience, and we are working together.”

That sense of mentor and apprenticeship roles runs deep in Ineos Grenadiers, which is betting big on youth.

And it played out on the road Sunday in dramatic fashion in the “queen stage” to Sierra Nevada.

Carapaz was up the road with perhaps another chance to win a stage, but when the radio crackled that Rodríguez was struggling on the never-ending slope, Carapaz eased up and helped paced him to the upper reaches of the climb.

“Richie did a super great job. He waited for me, and helped me. I think without him I would have cracked,” Rodríguez said. “I am super grateful to him and all the team for their support.

“We came here trying to learn, and right now I am fifth on GC, so I have to be happy with how I am performing and all of the support of the team.”

Tossato: ‘These young guys are the future of the team’

Luke Plapp hams it up for the cameras on a climb in Asturias. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Starting about five years ago, team principal Dave Brailsford began an aggressive recruitment program that’s resulted a near complete makeover of the UK squad.

A few stalwarts like Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas are still on the payroll, but behind them, much of the roster is filled with riders recruited by Brailsford and Rod Ellingworth to carry the team into its second decade.

Riders who part of the team’s makeover include Geoghegan Hart, Tour de France winner Egan Bernal, and Sivakov, all already established leaders.

New recruits such as Tom Pidcock, Magnus Sheffield, Rodríguez and Hayter are making their presence felt, both out on the roads and inside the team buses.

That transition is personified this week at the Tour of Britain, where longtime captain Richie Porte is bowing out in his final pro race and Pidcock is stepping up into the GC leadership role.

One young rider impressing everyone during the Vuelta is the 21-year-old Plapp, who is digging through his first grand tour with a mix of grit and humor.

“Look, mate, I won’t say it’s been easy. It’s been hell, to tell the truth,” Plapp told VeloNews. “But it’s been a great experience with the team. This team knows how to race grand tours, and that’s what I hope to do someday, so there isn’t a better place for me to be right now.”

The Australian national champion is learning how to race, recovery, rest, and then do it again, day in and day out for three weeks. Plapp brings some fun Aussie sense of humor to a hard day’s work.

“Plapp is a funny guy,” Tossato said. “He is a very good guy, offering great support, also on the bus, in the dinner, in the breakfast, he’s a funny personality, but the most important is the experience for the coming years.”

Tossato said a big part of his job during this Vuelta is to teach, nurse along, encourage, and sometimes hold back his group of young charges.

“We have four guys in their first grand tour, super young group,” Tossato said. “It’s important to get the info, to take it easy, to stay clam, because the grand tours are very long, and it’s important to stay focused. We have the whole team working to help these guys. They are the future of the team.”

And that’s why the team is putting in the investment here at this Vuelta.

Rodríguez might flame out before he hits Madrid, but for two weeks he’s been battling with the very best at the Vuelta. That experience will pay off sooner or later.

Within another grand tour or so, Rodríguez and the rest of Ineos Grenadiers’ young crop of budding grand tour stars will be leading the team.

This Vuelta is a preview of what the future of Ineos Grenadiers will look like.