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Vuelta a Espana

Ineos Grenadiers brings all the chiefs with Vuelta a España multi-leader strategy

Richard Carapaz, Egan Bernal and Adam Yates all bring personal ambition to Vuelta a España in scenario set for intra-team tension.

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Egan Bernal has got a history-making grand tour hat-trick on his mind, and there are not many that can get in his way of achieving it at this year’s Vuelta a España.

Except for teammates Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates that is.

Ineos Grenadiers is continuing with its multi-leader strategy for this month’s race as it looks to throw a wrench into Primož Roglič’s rule over the red jersey. The British squad has sent a power-packed octet into Spain with the plan to keep all three of Giro-winner Bernal, Olympic champion Carapaz, and the long-waiting Yates in contention for as long as possible.

Who will come out top in the Ineos triumvirate? As the British squad itself likes to say, “the road will decide.”

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“After such a long season and so much wear and tear, it’s an advantage for the squad to not depend on just one rider. It is a very tough Vuelta, with a very demanding third week,” Carapaz told reporters Thursday.

“The competition will put everyone in their place. The one who is best will try to bring victory to the team, if not, the rest of us will be there to try it.”

Ineos Grenadiers has long been reading from its multi-rider playbook, sending teams bristling with talent into grand tours in the hope that many cards are better than one. It’s a strategy intended to outmaneuver the opposition and steamroller the tenacious out of the race.

But the multi-prong approach doesn’t guarantee success and is one that opens the door for team tensions. From Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins in 2012 through to Bernal and Geraint Thomas in 2019, David Brailsford and Co. have had to keep a tight grip on intra-team politics.

And this year’s Vuelta could be no exception.

Bernal wants to make history by completing his grand tour set after winning the 2019 Tour de France and this year’s Giro.

Carapaz has not won a grand tour with Ineos Grenadiers and has the wind at his back after taking third at the Tour and scoring an Olympic gold medal.

And Yates? He’s long been waiting for his chance. The Brit has yet to see a grand tour in his debut season with Ineos Grenadiers and he was initially penned for sole leadership in Spain. After tearing through the early season with overall victory at Volta a Catalunya and top-fours in two other stage races, Yates won’t let his opportunity go easily.

For now, at least, it’s all calm aboard the Ineos bus.

“We’ve got a super strong team, but having a lot of leaders gives us options,” Yates said Thursday. “We’ve seen in the grand tours this year that one crash can really derail a team. So having options, especially in the first week when there’s potential for wind and for things to go wrong, it’s always better to have options.”

Bernal will start a half-wheel ahead of Carapaz and Yates when the race rolls out of Burgos on Saturday. The Colombian dominated the Giro and is hotly tipped for Vuelta victory, even if he’s been quiet since recovering from COVID in the summer. Meanwhile, Carapaz could be carrying the fatigue of a Tour-Olympic summer, and Yates lacks the grand tour pedigree of his teammates.

Bernal was diplomatic as ever in the team press conference Thursday.

“We need to see how we are. It’s difficult to know how we are. We have raced a lot this year and we don’t how it will be with this weather, with the hot conditions, how we will react,” he said. “I think we need to be calm. We need to be honest and to say how we are feeling.”

This year’s Vuelta could come down to a case of “last man standing” for Bernal, Carapaz, and Yates.

The nerves of the opening week of any grand tour will be escalated by the threat of crosswinds as the peloton sweeps through Spain’s barren center in the first phase of the race.

As Ineos Grenadiers knows all too well, the best-laid plans can come crumbling down at any moment. Thomas lost out to crashes at last year’s Giro d’Italia. He was again undone along with teammates Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richie Porte in the opening stages of this year’s Tour.

In the unlikely situation that all three of Bernal, Carapaz, and Yates remain in contention by the Vuelta’s final week, the friction between personal ambitions and team tactics could light a fuse far ahead of the Santiago de Compostela fireworks party.

Perversely enough, the Ineos trident may be hoping to be a couple of prongs fewer by that point.

“The road will decide. That will prevail over whatever we want personally,” Carapaz said. “The road will decide. It always does.”