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New era or same old? Ineos Grenadiers continues 2022 youth drive, brings back Elia Viviani

Ineos Grenadiers has made some big staffing changes in recent weeks and added a raft of young riders to its roster. Is this the beginning of something new for the team?

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Is Ineos Grenadiers ushering in a new era or is it just the same but different?

The British team announced a swath of new rider signings Monday to add to some recent major changes in its staffing line-up as it continues to revamp the 12-year-old set-up.

Elia Viviani, Omar Fraile, Ben Turner and Kim Heiduk were all confirmed as new signings for 2022, joining Luke Plapp, Ben Tulett and U.S. rider Magnus Sheffield.

Meanwhile, Roger Hammond was announced last Friday as the new lead sport director, while Ben Williams — a new name to the cycling world — will look after the performance side in addition to his role with the Ineos sailing team.

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“Roger brings significant cycling experience and deep-rooted knowledge of the sport which will be invaluable as our lead sport director,” Ineos deputy principal Rod Ellingworth said. “Ben brings a fresh perspective, and we are keen for him to take a bit of time to stand back and observe how the team works before recommending how we can better integrate the different performance elements that are critical for future success.

“We are proud of what we have achieved but a new chapter obviously lies ahead for us. We know how tough the competition is but there is real drive and determination from everyone here to make 2022 a very memorable year.”

The recent announcements come after, long-standing head coach, Tim Kerrison – the man behind much of the team’s Tour de France success — departed after joining the team at the very beginning.

Team principal Dave Brailsford is still rumoured to be taking a more hands-off role at the squad soon and moving to another position within Ineos’ sporting dominion as Ellingworth steps up in his responsibilities. Brailsford has already said he would step down from his position in the team if he has any more health issues.

Also read: Dave Brailsford: ‘Egan Bernal still has two years on his contract

All of these changes come after the Ineos Grenadiers squad failed to claim a Tour de France title for the second consecutive year having dominated the race for the best part of a decade.

In the engine room

Tim Kerrison with Chris Froome in 2017
Tim Kerrison with Chris Froome in 2017 (Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

The biggest changes in this Ineos Grenadiers overhaul are those that have been made in the backroom, especially the departure of Kerrison.

Kerrison’s personality might see him be overshadowed by the likes of Brailsford or Ellingworth in the media, but he has been instrumental in the way the team has been run over the last decade.

Whether you believe it was an innovation or not, Kerrison was one of the key developers of Team Sky’s “marginal gains” approach and is the man behind the omnipresent Sky train that demolished so many opponents. He also trained Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas to Tour de France glory.

Also read: Tim Kerrison to leave Ineos Grenadiers

“It took a lot of trust at the start for me to trust Tim’s training methods because he’d never worked in cycling. I’d go as far to say he’s revolutionised training in cycling,” Wiggins said of Kerrison in an interview with Sky Sports in 2012 after his Tour win.

With a fresh outlook coming through with Williams, it’s likely that things will change — at least in the behind-the-scenes approach, if not in the team’s racing tactics.

Ineos wants Williams to take some time assessing the team before he begins tinkering with things so it could be some time before we see any major differences.

In the DS line-up, the signing of Hammond is big news.

Ineos Grenadiers has sometimes looked rudderless since the death of its key DS Nicolas Portal at the start of 2020. The Frenchman, who died of a heart attack, was an integral part of the team’s dominance and his tactical nous has been missed as much as his friendly demeanour.

Hammond is widely seen as a very tactically skilled sport director. Since retiring from racing, he has worked with the Madison Genesis Continental team, Dimension Data, and most recently at Bahrain-Victorious. Bringing in Hammond, who is also very well respected among riders, will help in getting the Ineos ship back on course.

His influence on a more aggressive style of racing could also see a shake-up in how the team takes on races.

But it’s not the first time that a new Ineos Grenadiers has been declared and things have stayed much the same so only time will tell.

Youth and experience

With Geraint Thomas expected to stick around for at least another year and rumours about the early departure of Egan Bernal quashed, Ineos Grenadiers has steered away from big-ticket signings this transfer window.

Perhaps the biggest incoming name for 2022 is Viviani, who rode for the team from 2015 to 2017 before heading off to Quick-Step and then Cofidis. As well as sprint wins, the team is also looking to him to be a guiding light to some of its younger members.

Fraile also offers plenty of flair in the bunch as a very experienced breakaway rider, but he also provides firepower in the mountains to support his teammate’s overall ambitions.

While Viviani and Fraile offer a wealth of experience, the large majority of Ineos’ new signings for 2022 are rising stars. It is a clear sign that Ineos is thinking hard about its future and looking to nail down some of the most promising young riders early in their career.

U.S. talent Magnus Sheffield, the youngest signing at 19 years old, is a rider with some big results behind him already, including smashing the junior individual pursuit world record in 2020.

Plapp, 20, rode his first UCI pro road race at the Coppa Bernocchi in October. With a strong pedigree on the track already, including an Olympic bronze in the Team Pursuit, Plapp has plenty of promise.

Turner, and his fellow Ben, Tulett, are the new British signings for 2022 so far, is a couple of years older and was a silver medalist in the U23 time trial at the recent British national championships. Tullett, 20, has been racing with Alpecin-Fenix for the last two years, where he has put in some solid performances.

Meanwhile, Heiduk is the U23 German national road race champion. He also notched up a win in the first stage of the Tour d’Eure-et-Loir and had a string of top-5 placings across the first half of the year.