Wednesday morning saw the somewhat surprising news that Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome will be twiddling their thumbs over the next few weeks, as both were omitted from Team Ineos' final line-up for the Tour de France.
The trident is no more, leaving Egan Bernal with a clear shot at leadership, although the equally surprising news that Richard Carapaz had been plucked from the October Giro d'Italia means that Ineos still have more than one Grand Tour winner in the squad.
From the emerging Pavel Sivakov to the dependable Luke Rowe, who's the only Brit in the line-up, we take a look at the eight Team Ineos riders heading to Nice for the August 29 start, and what they bring to the table.
- Age: 23
- Tours raced: 2
- Best result: 1st, 2019
The Colombian caused a stir earlier this year when he came out and said he wouldn’t sacrifice his own chances for Froome or Thomas, and while he has spoken more diplomatically since, he has backed up his statement of intent and now finds himself as the clear leader for Team Ineos.
While Thomas has floundered since the season re-start, and Froome was clearly still far short of Tour-winning level, Bernal won the Route d’Occitanie and placed runner-up at the Tour de l’Ain, even if his preparation was hampered by having to abandon the Critérium du Dauphiné with a back problem. The form of Jumbo-Visma’s Primoz Roglic, who comfortably had the better of him at l’Ain and the Dauphiné, will be a worry, but Bernal should be confident that he can hurt the Slovenian in the final week.
In any case, he lines up with a clear shot, free of the politics and constant leadership questions that have trailed Ineos for the last couple of Tours, and throughout this year. While the British team now has just one ‘home’ rider in Rowe, Bernal is one of four native Spanish speakers in the line-up, and has a clear platform to call the shots. That comes with great responsibility, but he has already shown he’s mature beyond his years.
- Age: 27
- Tours raced: 0
- Best result: N/A
While Froome’s spot in the Tour was always in doubt, Carapaz is effectively a like-for-like replacement for Thomas, with the Welshman in turn taking the Giro leadership. There are question marks over Carapaz’s form and role, since he was on a training plan that was supposed to see him reach his peak in October.
He looked sharp when he won a stage of the Tour de Pologne, but subsequently crashed and pulled out of that race, before finishing more than eight minutes down on the winner at Il Lombardia. The team must have seen enough to be confident that Carapaz is in the shape required, but taking someone who hasn’t trained specifically for the Tour still represents something of a leap of faith for a team associated with rigid planning, even more so when you consider Carapaz is a debutant at the Tour.
Given the sudden nature of his inclusion, his role isn’t precisely defined at this point. In the team announcement, Brailsford spoke of "getting Egan and Richard to target yellow". Carapaz will certainly be a 'protected' rider, given he’s the Giro champion and clearly capable of challenging for victory, but his lack of Tour pedigree lowers his status compared to that an in-form Thomas or Froome would have enjoyed. He’s likely to be more of a 'plan B' than a true 'co-leader', but with Bernal looking slightly ropey at the Dauphiné, which he left with a back injury, the team may end up needing that back-up.
- Age: 23
- Tours raced: 0
- Best result: N/A
Speaking on his podcast with Luke Rowe during a training camp on Mount Teide in late July, Thomas was asked whether he and Froome were training competitively, trying to get an edge in the pecking order.
"I think Pavel’s more of a threat at the moment," Thomas joked. He surely couldn’t have envisaged losing his own spot, but it did reveal just how impressive Sivakov was looking.
"He’s flying," Rowe added.
Having placed ninth with a stubborn display at the Giro d’Italia last year, the Franco-Russian was challenged with making the squad for a Tour debut this year. He hasn’t simply 'made it' – he has arguably made himself the number-one super domestique. At the Route d’Occitanie, he was outstanding as final man for Bernal, and went on to take second place, while at the Dauphiné he was streets ahead of Thomas and Froome.
Sivakov won’t have protected status as such, but on current form he’ll be the last man with Bernal and Carapaz in the mountains, and could even snag a decent overall result himself. The form is there, but there will be question marks over consistency when it comes to someone so young and inexperienced. Sivakov had a big wobble on the Col de Porte stage at the Dauphiné, his turn in the Ineos train coinciding with them losing control, but he got better from there, finishing ahead of Bernal the following day before picking himself up from a nasty crash to take fourth on the final day and 11th overall.
After a shaky start to his pro career in 2018, the rider who’d previously dominated the sport’s under-23 ranks now seems to be rapidly moving through the gears. This is a big moment for him.
- Age: 30
- Tours raced: 6
- Best result: 11th, 2013
The Pole is a luxury domestique and one of the best all-rounders in the world. He finished 11th as an 23-year-old at the 2013 Tour, but since joining Ineos has been perfectly happy to sacrifice any ambitions of his own during the month of July.
He astounded with his performances in his first Tour for the team in 2017, as he repeatedly shredded the field in the high mountains before grinding to a near-halt once his turns were done. In 2018, he was again a key cog in the Ineos train, but he was well off the pace last year, unable to offer up any kind of support in the mountains. He helped drive a key advantage in the crosswinds ahead of the first rest day, but effectively dragged himself to Paris thereafter.
The pandemic has given Kwiatkowski even more room to refresh, and he looked on track with a solid display at the Dauphiné.
- Age: 33
- Tours raced: 5
- Best result: 24th, 2015
The aerodynamic Spaniard has become a key domestique for the team since joining from Movistar in 2018. He’s a five-time Spanish national time trial champion, but it’s his low profile, rather than raw power, that makes him so good against the clock, and his light weight makes him a strong early tempo-setter in the mountains.
In fact, if you look at the Tour de l’Ain, you can make that 'late into the mountains'. While Froome and Thomas dropped away, Castroviejo outlasted Andrey Amador and Tao Geoghegan Hart to be the last man for Bernal, and it’s hard to say which was more impressive – his race-saving efforts on stage 2 or his ride on the Grand Colombier on stage 3. Either way, he walked away with 13th overall and a guaranteed ticket to Nice.
- Age: 28
- Tours raced: 4
- Best result: 46th, 2019
The Dutchman is yet another highly versatile rider in the Ineos line-up. He was signed after finishing fourth at the Tour of Flanders in 2017, but it’s the Grand Tours, rather than the Classics, where they’ve got most change out of him. Like Castroviejo, he has surpassed expectations when it’s come to climbing, and he was arguably Ineos’ stand-out domestique at last year’s Tour, when the likes of Kwiatkowski and Wout Poels underperformed.
With so many climbing legs in the line-up, Van Baarle will help to work on the flat – you’re likely to seeing him and Luke Rowe shielding Bernal in the final kilometres of the flat stages – but he’ll also act as a link into the mountains, and will take an early place in that train. He’s a Swiss Army knife of a rider whose Tour spot has never really been in doubt.
- Age: 33
- Tours raced: 5
- Best result: 50th, 2018
It was a long old struggle to get Amador in the first place, as a contractual dispute with Movistar dragged well into the new year, and Ineos are now deploying the Costa Rican in the most important race. Despite his status as one of the leading Grand Tour domestiques, he seemed to be teetering on the edge of selection, as the likes of Kwiatkowski, Castroviejo, and Van Baarle were considered dead certs, and a return to the Giro with Carapaz was always on the cards.
He was at the Teide training camp, plus the Route d’Occitanie and Tour de l’Ain, but didn’t make the Dauphiné team. Still, he played a crucial role in Carapaz’s Giro win last year, as he did for Nairo Quintana’s 2014 Giro victory, and has supported five further Grand Tour podiums as well as placing fourth himself at the 2015 Giro. He brings experience and tactical nous to the table.
- Age: 30
- Tours raced: 5
- Best result: 128th, 2018
Rowe has established himself as a crucial cog in the Ineos’ Tour de France team since making his debut five years ago, and will again act as the road captain.
Rowe is one of the most highly-regarded domestiques in the world – as our recent rider survey found – and is able to use his engine and Classics pedigree to protect his leaders on the flat and in the wind, while also setting tempo on an ever-increasing array of climbs. Besides his athletic capabilities, it’s his ability to organise the team and direct matters from the road that have stood out in the last couple of editions. Those editions that have been marked by leadership complications, but he didn’t get drawn into those debates and put the team above friendships and past loyalties.
It’s that professionalism that makes him so highly valued at the team and, in the absence of Nicolas Portal in the team car, Rowe could be more important than ever this year.
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