What does this mean for both Froome’s former and future teams? And coming off the back of a career-threatening injury, can the 35-year-old continue to succeed?
Froome says he still plans to win this year’s Tour with Ineos – do you see team manager Dave Brailsford letting him off the leash to go for it?
Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): That’s assuming Froome will race the Tour. Let’s see first if internal politics interfere or if Froome’s form is up to making the selection. If he’s there and he’s back in top shape in the wake of his 2019 crash, of course he can win. The problem Ineos has this year is that its leaders will be trying to get an early advantage and earn the rights of captaincy on the road. So Ineos riders might be racing for themselves and against each other rather than as a unified front, perhaps opening cracks for other teams to exploit. The absence of the calming presence of Nico Portal, who died in March, will also be felt, meaning that Brailsford will face his toughest managerial challenge in this year’s race.
Jim (@jim_c_1985): If Brailsford has to make a call between Froome, Bernal and Thomas should they all find themselves at the pointy end of the Tour’s GC with a few stages left to go, he won’t want to muddy the water with Thomas and Bernal for years to come by showing preference toward Froome. But there’s also a huge PR kickback to be had by having Froome take a record-tieing five yellow jerseys in a Sky/Ineos jersey. As the saying goes, “the road decides,” and whatever Brailsford says from the team car may not play out on the roads of France. He may hope the decision gets taken out of his hands by one of his three leaders establishing a clear lead early on in the race.
James Startt: If he has the legs to drop Bernal and Thomas, not to mention the rest of the competition, then Brailsford will let him do whatever he wants, simple as that. Having a five-time Tour winner in a team’s history is, well, pretty cool. Brailsford has no favorites. He just wants his team to win.
Can Froome continue to thrive outside of the Sky/Ineos bubble, and what does Israel Start-Up Nation need to do to support his ongoing success?
Andrew: Froome will need a stronger bench if he’s going to take on Ineos in 2021, and sources are already telling us that Israel Start-Up Nation is on the market to sign some marquee riders to support Froome. Israel Start-Up Nation has an ambitious owner who won’t be afraid to build the infrastructure necessary to help Froome. Whether that’s fast enough to help Froome, who will be 36 next July, remains to be seen. Another big factor will be the type of Tour ASO delivers in 2021. The organizer loves to set up a route that will deliver a good race, and after several years of ever-more-difficult parcours, ASO might create a race that has more time trial kilometers, something that could tilt the advantage back to Froome.
James: It will be curious to see what staff Froome takes with him and it will also be very telling to see what kind of support they hire. History is not kind to late-career transfers of this kind. Froome is a particular rider that really needs the support of a big team. We will see this winter what Israel Start-Up Nation can bring to the table.
Jim: While the Israeli team already has a lot of firepower with the likes of Dan Martin, Nils Politt and James Picolli, I don’t see them stacking up against the Team Ineos arsenal, and they will need to bulk out with a few solid domestiques. Fortunately for them, with Sylvan Adams writing the checks, they have the money and the will to do that. However, if Froome isn’t where he was during his Tour heyday after his long spell away from racing with injury, no amount of team strength is going to take him to the top.
How do you see Froome’s departure shaping things at Ineos going forward?
Jim: The Ineos victory train will keep chugging along just fine, though 2021 will mark a big transition for them, without the old spine of Froome, Nico Portal, Rod Ellingworth. However, it seems to be overlooked that Ineos also has Richard Carapaz (remember him?) waiting in the wings as a leadership option, and then a whole host of young developing talents like Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart straining at the leash to get a chance at grand tours. The 2o21 season may be a little shakey for Ineos, but I’m sure they’ll manage.
James: The road is clear for Bernal, that’s for sure. Thomas could perhaps get one more chance, but like Froome, age is not on his side. Bernal is young, bursting with talent, and has already proven he can win the world’s biggest bike races.
Andrew: Brailsford has done such an excellent job bolstering his squad that, as crazy as it sounds, the exit of a four-time Tour winner won’t be felt that much. Having the peloton’s deepest pockets helps, and Brailsford has used that bounty to secure the future of the team without Froome. Unlike other teams that have fallen off the map when their franchise rider exits, Brailsford and Co. will continue to be in the thick of things for years to go. Remember, Froome hasn’t won the Tour since 2017, but Brailsford has.