PAU, France (VN) — This is a very different style of grand tour for Team Ineos. And perhaps the last of its kind.
Instead of aiming for the top step of the final GC podium, the UK super-team has been reduced to stage-hunting status so far in this Vuelta a España.
It could very well be the last time in a long time that Ineos will not be racing for victory in every grand tour it starts.
With the arrival of Richard Carapaz, confirmed Monday, the already daunting Ineos lineup will now have enough GC firepower to legitimately target every grand tour for victory in 2020.
Speaking to VeloNews, Ineos sport director Nicolas Portal said the highly touted Carapaz will not be simply slotted into Ineos’s support train.
“Carapaz will have his chances in the grand tours,” Portal said. “This is something we will be talking about this winter.”
Ineos/Sky has dominated the Tour de France over much of the past decade, winning seven of the past eight yellow jerseys with four different riders. Its run in the other grand tours hasn’t been as dominant, with Chris Froome winning two editions of the Vuelta (2017 and the post-dated 2011 win) and the 2018 Giro d’Italia.
But with the arrival of the winner of the 2019 Giro, along with the improvements among such younger riders as Pavel Sivakov, coupled with the established GC leadership of Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal — all Tour de France winners — Ineos suddenly will find itself with a surplus of grand tour contenders.
How the team manages that bounty will be one of the key talking points going into next season.
Portal said the team has yet to map out the 2020 racing calendars, but insisted that Carapaz was signed to be a leader, not just as fresh fodder in the so-called “Fortress Froome.”
The Frenchman also admitted Ineos will have a delicate balancing act on its hands trying to keep everyone happy, especially when it comes to the Tour.
“It will be interesting,” Portal said. “We have Froomey, who clearly wants to win a fifth Tour. He is more motivated than ever. [Thomas] realized this year that he wants to win another one, and Egan now has this fever for the yellow jersey. And then Carapaz — booof — it’s not going to be easy.”
So far in team history, Ineos has not had to worry much about balancing ambitions simply because Froome has been at the center of the team’s GC focus. There was a rocky co-habitation between Bradley Wiggins and Froome during the 2012 Tour, but in 2013, Sky sent Wiggins to the Giro instead, clearing the way for Froome to take over GC leadership each summer.
Froome’s place atop the team hierarchy started to change during 2018. The arrival of the highly talented Bernal and Thomas’s superb 2018 season, capped by his Tour victory, saw the team shake up its GC approach.
Instead of all for one, the team shifted toward a multi-pronged approach to assure that one of its riders would be in position for overall victory. That strategy worked to a charm in 2018. Froome won the Giro that spring, in what was his third consecutive grand tour victory, and later succumbed to a superior Thomas in the Tour, with Thomas and Froome finishing first and third, respectively. And again this summer, Ineos bet on the multi-card approach and won, with Bernal and Thomas finishing one-two at the Tour.
Now with Froome expected to return in 2020 from injury, plus the arrival of Carapaz, the team will need to find room at the top of the calendar to keep all of its well-paid captains happy.
It’s likely Carapaz will carry team colors in the Giro, with Froome, Thomas and Bernal all returning to the Tour. Sivakov, who rode into the top-10 at the Giro in only his second grand tour, will also see some room to move.
Portal insisted none of those decisions have been made yet.
“We have hit the Tour podium many times with more than one rider,” he said. “We have a way that works. Cycling moves quickly and we cannot sit on our palmares. There will be chances for everyone.”
If Ineos can effectively spread around its GC wealth, it won’t just be dominating the Tour each summer, but the Giro and Vuelta as well. The team has long held the desire to win all three grand tours in one season. With the arrival of Carapaz, and the confirmation of Bernal, it’s closer than ever to season-long grand tour domination.