Ahead of last year's Tour de France, the Ineos Grenadiers team appeared to be in disarray. Geraint Thomas and Chris from were jettisoned from the team’s short-list after meek performances at the Critérium du Dauphiné, while there were question marks over Egan Bernal's form and fitness due to a longstanding back issue.
This time around, the British team look back to their best, with Thomas, Richard Carapaz and Richie Porte all flying and last year's Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart waiting in the wings.
Whether the team has a leader capable of competing with the jaw dropping consistency of last year's top two of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo Visma) remains to be seen but there's no getting away from the fact that the British team head to Brest for the Grand Départ with the strongest collective in the entire race.
There is no major weakness, while their depth in the mountains and on the flats is second to none. The omission of Rohan Dennis – a rider who helped catapult them to the Giro win last year – demonstrates their power and makes sense given that the Australian has signed a two-year deal to join rivals Jumbo-Visma at the end of the season.
The main question facing Ineos at this point is who they back for the win but, having seen the team protect two leaders in both 2018 and 2019, this shouldn’t hinder their challenge.
- Age: 35
- Tours raced: 10
- Best result: He won it in 2018
Everything appeared to be running perfectly in early May when Thomas won the Tour de Romandie, and while a stage win and third overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné is nothing to be sniffed at, a disappointing time trial, Carapaz’s win in the Tour de Suisse, and the fact that he was beaten by a teammate in France just opens up the door for a tiny element of doubt.
Perhaps it’s telling that Ineos haven’t nailed their colours to one particular mast and that there are protected roles for at least two riders in the team. But maybe that’s reading too much into a scenario that Thomas has faced in each of his last two Tours, when Chris Froome and then Egan Bernal were given leadership roles alongside the Welshman.
The route certainly favours Thomas, with two decent length time trials and a team that looks well-positioned to exploit weaknesses in their rivals during any of the crosswind stages. He has the added knowledge of how to win a Tour de France and, just like in 2018, his contract is up for renewal so expect his focus to be razor-sharp.
Whether the former Tour winner has the power in the mountains to match Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar remains to be seen but Ineos will have to rely on their collective strength no matter who they anoint as their leader. The fact that we haven’t seen much of either of the Slovenians since the spring, and that Thomas missed the 2020 Tour, creates an intriguing amount of uncertainty but if the veteran shows up with his 2018 condition then he should at least make the podium.
- Age: 36
- Tours raced: 10
- Best result: Third in 2020
Winning a Critérium du Dauphiné doesn’t make you a Tour de France favourite – just ask Janez Brajkovič or Andrew Talansky – but there’s something about Porte’s resurgence in the last 12 months that just makes you wonder whether he’s an underrated contender for the maillot jaune.
At the very least, he’ll be one of if not the best mountain domestique in the race but, as he demonstrated in the Dauphiné – and most of the season to be fair – he has matched his consistency of old and blended it with a new, more relaxed and collected attitude towards racing. Maybe it’s maturity, maybe it’s just a continuation of where he left off in last year’s race, but he heads to Brest with very little pressure on his shoulders. Should something happen to Thomas in the first week, and if Carapaz finds himself on the back foot after the opening time trial, then Porte could well be the team’s saviour.
The most likely scenario, however, is that the team utilizes Porte as a mountain domestique, with the Australian either defending the team or launching moves in a bid to isolate their rivals. Whatever the task, this looks like the most complete version of Richie Porte we’ve seen in years.
- Age: 28
- Tours raced: 1
- Best result: Second in two stages last year and second in the mountains classification
The Ecuadorian has seamlessly slotted into the Ineos Grenadiers family over the last 18 months and could well be their best shot at winning the Tour. The form looks excellent - a dominant showing in the Tour de Suisse demonstrated that - while he has the most robust and powerful squad around him on the flats and in the mountains.
On paper, Carapaz is arguably Ineos’ best hope when it comes to challenging Roglič and Pogačar in the mountains, while his anticipation and stealth were two key factors in winning the Giro d’Italia two years ago. Those skills alone could be decisive on a route that has few mountain summit finishes and where riders may have to break from their customary tactics of late attacks in order to gain time.
It’s also not impossible to imagine a scenario in which the Slovenian favourites watch each other and mark themselves out of contention – just like Roglič did at the 2019 Giro. The major concern is over Carapaz’s time trial, which, although is far from poor, isn’t on the same level as Pogačar and Roglič.
- Age: 25
- Tours raced: 0
- Best result: What’s one percent of nothing?
After his highly surprising win in the Giro d’Italia last year, the Londoner has been ushered into the inner sanctum of Dave Brailsford’s Tour de France squad. The season so far has been relatively quiet on the results front, with the 25-year-old often utilized as a support rider, and while he failed to finish both Paris-Nice and the Tour of the Basque Country earlier in the year, he was both solid and dependable at the recent Dauphiné.
He looks well equipped for a Tour de France debut and although the precise nature of his role looks fairly clear cut, it will be interesting to see how deep he can go and whether he can out-climb some of the more established and experienced riders on this list. If all goes to plan, and Carapaz or Thomas mount serious challenges, then it will be Porte and Geoghegan Hart who will be charged with providing the last line of defense – or attack – in the Alps and Pyrenees.
Results-wise, this would obviously represent a significant step back from the Giro but there’s far more to be gained, with Geoghegan Hart experiencing a Tour for the first time and then using the lessons learned to come back in the future as a potential leader.
- Age: 31
- Tours raced: 7
- Best result: 11th in 2013 but there were a couple of years in which he was immense for Chris Froome
It’s no coincidence that the former world champion has made every Tour selection bar one since his arrival on the team in 2016. The one omission came the year he joined and when he failed to sync immediately with the team. However, since then, he has been a rock in Grand Tours, having helped Froome, Thomas, and Bernal secure titles.
Last year, when Bernal cracked, the 31-year-old helped salvage a result for his team with a fine stage win at La Roche-sur-Foron. That was his last win of any note, with the Polish rider going through a rather subdued season by his standards. Illness earlier in the year didn’t help but he has picked up a number of top-tens without reaching his scintillating best. That won’t trouble the team management too much as Kwiatkowski brings more than just his all-around consistency to the table. He also exudes calmness and experience and, what’s more, he can work just as well on the flats as he can in the high mountains.
If Brailsford could pack the team with seven Kwiatkowskis and one leader he probably would.
- Age: 31
- Tours raced: 6
- Best result: Apart from that one time he and Tony Martin turned the peloton into an MMA ring the Welshman has been a solid and sometimes spectacular worker
Heading into his seventh Tour de France, the Welshman is still pound-for-pound the best domestique in the peloton. Some run him close but the 31-year-old is remarkably solid in almost every department. He knows when to bring his leader to the front on the flat, he can work all day at the head of the peloton when called upon, and his prowess in the medium mountains makes a huge difference later in the race.
This year, Rowe could have an even bigger workload on his shoulders with the opening week through Brittany littered with pitfalls for the GC contenders. Later in the race, crosswinds could be another decisive feature, and a rider of Rowe’s stature and experience will be crucial when it comes to protecting whoever Ineos are built around.
- Age: 29
- Tours raced: 5
- Best result: Surprisingly the Dutchman has only been part of one winning Tour team, back in 2019
The 29-year-old had a superb spring, winning Dwars door Vlaanderen and picking up several top-tens in the Classics before turning his attention to the Dauphiné, where his no-frill domestique duties helped the team put two riders on the podium.
Van Baarle probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves but, like Kwiatkowski, he can provide cover in a multitude of areas, while his climbing improvements over the last few seasons continue to go unchecked. Like Rowe, he will have a taxing opening week as Ineos aim to protect several riders all at once, but the team will also hope that Van Baarle can soak up as many medium mountains as possible in the Alps and Pyrenees to save the climbing core for when it really matters.
Like Kwiatkowski and Rowe, the Dutchman is a domestique that would talk into every single Tour de France roster at this year’s race. It’s another demonstration as to why Ineos are the strongest team in the race.
- Age: 34
- Tours raced: 6
- Best result: Has been part of three winning teams
Castroviejo is the only rider on the list coming into the Tour de France having raced the Giro d’Italia in May. That shouldn’t be an issue – he has a proven pedigree for going back-to-back in Grand Tours and was even pulled from the Tour de France in the third week of last year’s race in order to prepare for the Giro. That withdrawal from the Tour is his only DNF in 13 Grand Tours, and while you never get the sense that he’s a top-five climber, his consistent nature and experience make him an easy fit for this team.
If the squad was considering the Spaniard or Rohan Dennis for the final spot then it’s understandable as to why they went with the 34-year-old veteran. This is another climber-heavy selection from Brailsford and for the fourth year running Castroviejo has made the cut – plus many of the medium mountain stages look perfect for him.
Editor in Chief - Cyclingnews.
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