Ineos Grenadiers‘ domination at the Tour de France might have hit a wobble in 2020, when Egan Bernal flamed out on the Grand Colombier, but the UK super-team is locked and loaded for 2021 with grand tour depth unseen in modern cycling.
Winning seven out of eight yellow jerseys from 2012-2019 simply isn’t enough for the peloton’s richest team.
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In 2021, Dave Brailsford is throwing down the gauntlet and wants to do something that no team has ever done before — win all three grand tours in one season.
Backed by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, team boss Brailsford has been able to build a roster overflowing with so much talent that is not going to settle on supporting one singular rider for just the Tour, as the team did while backing Bradley Wiggins or “Fortress Froome” in the Chris Froome heyday.
The team is so deep that it can bring multiple GC captains to any grand tour, and its backbench is so stacked in 2021 that it will target all three grand tours with at least two legitimate GC contenders for each race.
As Brailsford spelled out Wednesday in a media call, Ineos Grenadiers is spreading its wealth of talent across the entire grand tour calendar.
Just consider the GC leadership at each major tour: at the Giro d’Italia, Bernal will start for the first time, along with Dani Martínez and Pavel Sivakov. The Tour will see Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Richie Porte, and Richard Carapaz. The Vuelta a España will also draw Adam Yates, and a few more of the above riders.
The team has already proven it can handle egos and inside-the-bus drama to keep the train going toward the same direction.
Just look at last year’s Giro. Thomas started as the designated captain and leader, but his quick exit opened the door for Geoghegan Hart to win. The same went for Bernal in the 2019 Tour, while Thomas had his turn in the 2018 Tour.
The goal now at Ineos Grenadiers isn’t that anyone particular rider wins, but rather the team wins.
Becoming the Quick-Step of the grand tours
In many ways, Ineos Grenadiers is adopting the “one-for-all, all-for-one” Musketeer’s attitude that’s proven so successful during the spring classics with Deceuninck-Quick-Step.
For years, team manager Patrick Lefevere has drilled into the riders that their best individual chance to win is to help the team win. And the tactic has paid off year after year, with the Belgian outfit typically coming home with at least one major trophy each spring. If it wasn’t Philippe Gilbert winning, it was Zdeněk Štybar, Niki Terpstra, or Yves Lampaert.
It appears that riders at Ineos Grenadiers have bought into the new tactic. The exit of Froome should create more space for everyone across the entire calendar. Riders like Thomas or Bernal are content to share leadership duties because they know their turn will come at another moment. Having such a deep bench also spreads the burden of stress across the entire team, and it guarantees the team remains in the hunt if one of their GC riders flames out.
When you look at the team’s power charts, winning all three grand tours in one season might not seem that far-fetched. Despite Bernal’s flameout at the Tour, Ineos Grenadiers provided a telling preview in 2020, winning the Giro and finishing second in the Vuelta.
The only team that comes close to matching Ineos Grenadiers in pure power and depth is Jumbo-Visma, which finished second in the Tour and won the Vuelta with Primož Roglič. One big difference is that many of Jumbo-Visma’s GC eggs are in the Roglič basket. With Tom Dumoulin’s career pause, Steven Kruijswijk, George Bennett, and Sepp Kuss should see their GC chances in 2021.
At least right now, the Tour remains the driving focus for Jumbo-Visma. UAE-Team Emirates packs Tour disruptor Tadej Pogačar but doesn’t have the depth to bring a full fleet of GC candidates across all three grand tours.
‘Fortress Froome’ is a thing of the past
Of course, not everyone will like it if one team dominates all three grand tours. Many complained that the Tour became too boring and predictable under the Sky/Ineos yoke during the Froome years. Others bemoan that Ineos has unfair financial muscle, allowing the team to buy the best talent.
What’s different about this new approach is that Ineos Grenadiers isn’t necessarily trying to bulldoze the peloton, but rather it’s looking to outflank everyone else. If the team brings more than one GC option, it can create a much more dynamic tactical playbook than grinding at the front of the bunch all day and looking after just one rider.
There are a few reasons behind the change. Beside the fact that Brailsford has the peloton’s biggest checkbook, the peloton simply isn’t going to be dominated by such a singular fashion as Froome was able to do. Neither the aging Thomas nor a now-hobbled Bernal can provide that guarantee. And the rest of the peloton has caught up to the Ineos Grenadiers way of doing things.
Riders have pulled off grand tour doubles, and teams have won more than one grand tour with more than one rider in one year — Ineos came close in 2018 with Froome winning the Giro and Thomas the Tour — but no team has ever swept all three grand tours in one year.
The peloton is more equal than it’s ever been. So there’s no guarantee that Ineos Grenadiers will even win one grand tour, let alone three.
It’s sure going to be fun watching them try.