After a disappointing Tour de France, where a run of five straight victories - and seven in the space of eight years - was brought to an abrupt end, Ineos Grenadiers head to the Giro d'Italia in search of their next Grand Tour title and a desire to get back to their best.
As with last year, when Egan Bernal broke his collarbone on the eve of the race, the British team's best laid plans have changed since the start of the season, and not just because of the Giro's one-off October billing. Geraint Thomas was left out of the Tour team and sent to the Giro, with 2019 Giro winner Richard Carapaz switching in the opposite direction.
While Bernal's absence last year saw a young team race without pressure, with Pavel Sivakov nevertheless recording a top-10 finish, Ineos Grenadiers go into the 2020 Giro with a bona fide overall favourite in Thomas, who's been in good form since his Tour snub.
Even so, the switch in leaders gives the team a different complexion, and here we run through the eight-man line-up and how they're expected to contribute over the next three weeks.
- Age: 34
- Giros raced: 3
- Best result: 80th, 2012
Nearly 70km of individual time trialling are something of a rarity in modern-day Grand Tours and Thomas will surely exploit RCS Sport's generosity as he mounts a genuine challenge for the maglia rosa.
Of course, it would be disingenuous to suggest that this was all part of some masterplan, because had Thomas performed to his true ability in August then he would have been at the Tour de France. However, in cycling,the wheels turn and when one door closes another opens. The same happened with Egan Bernal last year after he crashed on the eve of the Giro and ended up winning the Tour a few months later.
Thomas’ form is clearly in the right place, and while he’ll start the Giro with a target on his back, he has the quality to come through. He’s more of a pure bike racer than many of the Ineos/Sky leaders that have ventured to the Giro in previous years and that skill will be tested to the maximum when it comes to the unpredictable nature of the Italian race.
- Age: 32
- Giros raced: 2
- Best result: 113th, 2014
The British national road race champion hasn’t appeared in a Grand Tour of any sort since the 2017 Tour de France, and since his return to Dave Brailsford’s stable in 2019 he has mainly concentrated on week-long races and one-day affairs. That said, Swift will provide a number of outlets for Ineos at this year’s race.
His main duties will centre around protecting Thomas on the flat roads as much as possible and then sticking around in the medium mountain stages for as long as possible but if there are opportunities to sprint then he might take them.
The 32-year-old hasn’t won a race – outside of the British nationals – since 2015 but his consistency with top-ten finishes might be rewarded.
Swift and Thomas haven’t raced a Grand Tour on the same team since 2011, which seems odd given their years together in the peloton.
- Age: 33
- Giros raced: 1
- Best result: 57th, 2014
The Spanish super domestique was pulled from the Tour de France with a few days to spare in order to bolster Thomas’s GC bid, and there’s no doubt that the inclusion of Castroviejo adds solidity to the Ineos camp ahead of the Giro.
This might only be his second outing at the Italian Grand Tour but his three-week experience is vast and there are few domestiques in the peloton as dependable or as consistent.
Thomas will need Castroviejo to be on his A-game in a race that’s far more difficult to control than the Tour de France, and where rivals will be attacking at every opportunity. Castroviejo could well be Thomas’ last line of defense in the mountain stages.
- Age: 30
- Giros raced: 2
- Best result: 16th and a stage win in 2018
In his last six attempts, Dennis has only finished one Grand Tour but he will need to step up this time around if Thomas is going to be properly protected throughout the race.
With Filippo Ganna on better form for the time trials, the Australian can't simply be expected to target minor placings in the three TT stages and then hope Ganna tires as the race unfolds. Such a strategy would be a waste of a place on Ineos’ roster.
Instead Dennis needs to use his undoubted talent to fulfill a role similar to Michal Kwiatkowski at the Tour de France in which the Polish rider combines his ability to protect his leaders on the flats and then provide cover in the mountains.
Dennis has the engine for such duties but a lot depends on how he’s trained for this race. Riders can’t just turn their climbing legs on with the flick of a switch and even though swapping Carapaz and Thomas might seem like an easy switch they’re two very different riders, with two very different needs when it comes to their supporting needs.
- Age: 24
- Giros raced: 0 - Grand Tour debutant
The 24-year-old was in a league of his own at the World Championships and put in a performance worthy of winning Italy’s first-ever men’s elite time trial gold in the event.
His Giro d’Italia could start with a similar performance and see him swap rainbow bands for pink in the opening time trial but from that point on Ganna’s quest in his maiden Grand Tour will take on a different dimension.
Yes, there are two more time trials still to come but racing against the clock after two or three weeks of racing is a different notion to racing solo after seven days or, as we saw at the Worlds, on a specific one-day effort.
Ganna will use this race to obviously target the three stages that suit him but he will also race the Giro for experience and will be expected to fulfill team duties as and when required.
- Age: 25
- Giros raced: 1
- Best result: DNF, 2019
Geoghegan Hart was originally on the long-list for the Tour de France but a crash in the Tour de l’Ain set him back and by the time he was back on the bike, the Tour selection was almost complete.
Like Thomas the 25-year-old can now embrace the Giro as a major opportunity to improve his stage racing standing within the Ineos team ahead of a raft of new riders joining in 2021.
Success at the Giro for Geoghegan Hart would involve him providing consistent day-in-day-out cover for Thomas in the mountains with no off-days or incidents. He certainly has a top-15 GC ride in his legs but at Ineos there’s already an abundance of riders who can match that criteria.
If the aim is making the Tour de France selection for 2021, and demonstrating improvement, then Geoghegan Hart needs to usher himself into the role of a super domestique in what his arguably the hardest Grand Tour of 2020.
- Age: 23
- Giros raced: 1
- Best result: 80th, 2019
Last year Narvaez rode the Giro d’Italia for experience but his second outing in a Grand Tour comes with far more responsibility and he arrives at the start in Sicily with his tail up after a stage win and the GC title in Coppi e Bartali.
Last year it was about providing support for Pavel Sivakov but this time Ineos go into the race with a clear-cut favourite for the maglia rosa and Narvaez will be expected to devote the majority of his resources into Geraint Thomas’ challenge.
- Age: 31
- Giros raced: 6
- Best result: 64th in 2018, and wore pink for a day in 2013
Puccio’s role is well defined, with the 31-year-old acting as road captain for this year’s race.
He’s the most experienced Giro rider on the roster and brings a wealth of knowledge that his younger teammates, like Ganna and Narvaez, will find invaluable.
The Italian’s climbing probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves. He will be an important link between the flat stages and more difficult terrain and when it comes to knowing when to control proceedings, and when to let the race develop naturally and rest, Puccio will be vital.
He is arguably one of the most important riders on the team after Thomas.
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