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Ineos Grenadiers finding new ways to win after spate of injuries and illnesses

Tour de Hoody: Ineos Grenadiers isn't winning on pure brawn anymore, it's winning with finesse.

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Ineos Grenadiers is finding new ways to win early in 2022 following a spate of illnesses and devastating injuries that have sidelined many of the team’s marquee riders.

With Egan Bernal recovering in Colombia and many of the team’s top stars from Richie Porte to Geraint Thomas and Thomas Pidcock continuing to fend off illnesses, the UK powerhouse is digging deeper into its back bench and tactical playbook to deliver results.

Though the team was not in the frame for victory at E3 Saxo Bank Classic or Gent-Wevelgem over the weekend, Ineos Grenadiers saw quality podium time in Italy and Spain.

At last week’s Coppi e Bartali, three of the team’s younger riders took center stage, with Ethan Hayter and Ben Tullett each taking stage wins and Eddie Dunbar winning the overall.

“I’ve been on the team a few years now and everyone knows how much this means to me,” Dunbar said. “It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

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In Spain, Olympic gold medalist Richard Carapaz won for the first time in Europe this season Saturday and finished second overall at Volta a Catalunya on Sunday.

Yet instead of being part of the team’s bulldozing podium sweep at the Spanish WorldTour tsvr like it was in 2021, Carapaz was forced to uncork a long-distance attack in Saturday’s hilly stage to rewrite the script.

“We knew it could be a difficult stage, first of all because the rainy weather and difficult climbs, too,” Carapaz said after Saturday’s big raid. “It was a hard terrain but it’s my strength. We planned this attack beforehand, [it] was all or nothing and we did well.”

These days, Ineos Grenadiers isn’t winning on pure brawn, it’s winning with finesse.

Tale of the tape, and where Ineos ranks

Eddie Dunbar, center, won the GC at Coppi e Bartali for his first pro victory. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Though Ineos Grenadiers is being overshadowed of late by the sensational Slovenian duo of Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič and their respective teams, UAE Emirates and Jumbo-Visma, the UK outfit is still a force to reckon with.

The team leads the PCS rankings of points from the 100 best top-30 results over a 12-month period. Though that’s an unofficial ranking, it reveals the team’s ever-steady consistency.

Ineos Grenadiers will see a bump in the next official UCI team ranking after its recent successes, and will likely jump back into the top-3 after slipping from second to fifth in the rankings released at the end of last week.

In terms of straight-up wins, Ineos Grenadiers is now third among the WorldTour, with an impressive haul of 12 wins so far in 2022.

Nine different riders have won so far, with Filippo Ganna, with three wins, and newcomers like Magnus Sheffield also stepping up. Yet only two of those — Carapaz’s stage win at Catalunya and Ganna’s TT win at Tirreno-Adriatico — have come in the WorldTour.

For a team that once dominated stage racing and grand tours, so far the team’s only stage-race win in early days of 2022 is Dunbar’s trophy Saturday at the five-day Coppi e Bartali.

UAE Emirates is on a tear, with 22 victories so far this season, with the always there presence of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl with 17. In contrast, Jumbo-Visma “only” has eight wins, yet six of those are WorldTour race victories.

Ineos Grenadiers also has a WorldTour-leading number of second places with 14, and 11 more third places.

In fact, coming out of this weekend, only UAE Emirates with 42 top-3 places has more than Ineos Grenadiers’s 37 among the WorldTour so far in 2022.

So where does Ineos Grenadiers rank going into 2022? With a spate of injuries, most importantly to GC anchor Bernal, the team is clearly having to reshuffle its deck.

Team stalwart Porte isn’t buying some of the media headlines that the team’s best days are behind it. In fact, the Australian who is set to retire at the end of 2022 says for his money, the UK squad is still at the top of its game.

“I still think we’re the best team in the peloton,” Porte said. “It’s hard not to have the luxury of having a Bradley Wiggins or a Chris Froome, who 99 percent of the time would finish it off. You look at UAE and Jumbo-Visma, and you hope those guys enjoy what they’re on at the moment. Because those times don’t last forever. I think this team in the future will be the top team again.”

Building toward the Ardennes and Giro d’Italia

Richard Carapaz, left, hit the final podium with second at Volta a Catalunya. (Photo: Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Dunbar was glad he could finally deliver a big result after riding in Ineos Grenadiers colors since 2018.

His overall victory is the first Irish rider to win a stage race since the recently retired Nicolas Roche won the Route du Sud in 2014. The overall crown was also Dunbar’s first professional victory.

“I knew I could be up there in races, GC-wise and I said, ‘once I get a good run I can be good enough to contest these races,'” Dunbar said. “Everything fell into place this week and it’s a relief.

“I was grateful to all of the guys for believing in me and backing me these last few days to stick in there,” he said. “It’s nice to finally get a win and show how grateful I am to them, and all the staff, too.”

Dunbar’s victory last week at Coppi e Bartali comes as a salve not only for the 25-year-old Irishman, but also for the injury- and illness-ravaged lineup at Ineos Grenadiers.

Like many teams, the UK squad is seeing its fair share of COVID cases, sicknesses, crashes, illnesses and other setbacks.

Top stars Pidcock, Thomas, Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Porte, and Michal Kwiatkowski have all been ill of late and been forced out of races.

Adam Yates, second at the UAE Tour and fourth at Paris-Nice, has so far avoided the worse of the latest waves of illnesses and is slated to lead at Itzulia Basque Country. The Ardennes, Tour of the Alps and Tour de Romandie also loom, where the team hopes to hit some big results.

Even with Bernal in rehab, team brass is insisting it’s not changing its GC lineup going into the Giro and Tour. Yates, Martínez and Thomas are pencilled in for the Tour, with Carapaz, Porte and Geoghegan Hart heading to the Giro.

Carapaz is set to lead at the Giro, where he returns as a former winner from 2019.

“We didn’t have luck with some of our leaders having to go home, but we are fulfilling the objectives of the team, and we got a good result here,” Carapaz said in Spain. “We hope that things keep going in this direction.”

Ineos Grenadiers is hoping the worst of the health issues are behind the team just in time for its familiar stomping ground in the grand tours.