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Ineos Grenadiers: Back to the drawing board for the Tour de France

MALAUCENE, FRANCE - JULY 07: Geraint Thomas of The United Kingdom & Dylan Van Baarle of The Netherlands and Team INEOS Grenadiers leads The Peloton during the 108th Tour de France 2021, Stage 11 a 198,9km km stage from Sorgues to Malaucène / @LeTour / #TDF2021 / on July 07, 2021 in Malaucene, France. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Ineos Grenadiers working on the front of the peloton at the Tour de France (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

For the second year, Ineos Grenadiers came up short in the battle for the yellow jersey. Procycling speaks to the team’s lead DS, Gabriel Rasch, to find out what happened and what they’ve learned.

We went in with multiple GC contenders.

We didn’t have four leaders, we went in with the aim of protecting Geraint Thomas and Richard Carapaz more but we wanted to try to keep more guys on the GC. That was our game plan to challenge Pogačar and Roglič in the mountains later on. I think that first week was very difficult. You had riders like Van der Poel and Van Aert and they made the race extremely hard. They were going like every day was the last day. 

When we lost Geraint in the GC, he wasn’t out after his first crash, but he struggled with the pain and everything.

We kind of went all-in for Richard, and I think after the race now, you try and we tried. People say we rode like Sky used to do, but we had that Ventoux stage where we wanted to make the race really hard from the get go and see if we could exploit Pogačar if he had a bad day, or Vingegaard. But they didn’t really have a bad day.

And then we tried this other option, with making the race harder for  a shorter time. We just had to try, didn’t we? It’s easy to say afterwards that it didn’t work, but if it could have worked then it would be a shame if we didn’t try. 

I think in any race when you’ve done the race and you feel you have done everything you could – and in the end we had hard enough mountains, we had hard enough climbs – if we could drop Pogačar or Vingegaard, if we were better, then we would. In the end Pogačar was a far level above everybody else, and Vingegaard as well was super strong, he didn’t have one bad day. So there was nothing more we could do. You have to be happy with a podium. 

Tao Geoghegan Hart has been suffering a little bit with his back after that crash [stage 1] but it’s also Tao’s first Tour.

It hasn’t been easy for him, it’s been a bit up and down for him but I think for Tao he really kept on fighting.  I think this was very valuable for him going forward, for next year. And for Richie Porte, I think he suffered more from not having as much support as he normally would have, because we couldn’t really support all four of them 100 per cent. We had to go in with more support for G and for Richard.

We still had hopes for Geraint.

He didn’t lose time in the stage he crashed on so we were hoping that it wouldn’t affect him as much as it did. We kept trying to keep his head in the right place and morale high and keep fighting and hopefully get him to the rest day. But then we came to the mountain stages the first weekend in the Alps and he wasn’t right then. 

For us, we know how hard the last week is going to be, if you go all-in the first week. It’s always about saving energy.

I think there were a lot of guys in that first week who didn’t have anything to lose.  I think it was just a lot of crashes and if you take away that then  I think we came to the Alps with Richard in a good state and we tried on that first mountain stage. He tried to follow Pogačar. That was perhaps a mistake, on the Col de Romme, because then he went a bit too far into the red but he’s very brave, Richard, and he wants to be with the best, so it’s also stupid to say it was a mistake.

We thought, okay, we have kind of two races now. One is to be the best of the rest and if we could do that we knew that Pogačar would have to have a bad day to beat him.

By being the best of the rest that was our chance, or opportunity to beat him. Definitely we knew then, this was going to be difficult. We had hopes for warmer weather as well the last week and maybe that could affect him. Also, we didn’t have any wind the first week like we hoped. That’s also where we have won the Tour in the past with the echelon stages. 

LE GRAND BORNAND FRANCE JULY 03 Richard Carapaz of Ecuador and Team INEOS Grenadiers during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 8 a 1508km stage from Oyonnax to Le GrandBornand LeTour TDF2021 on July 03 2021 in Le Grand Bornand France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Richard Carapaz on the attack in the Alps (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

I think first of all we really believe in Richard and we wanted to support him 100 per cent.  

I think in that second week we could have gone more for stages, as well, and after the last rest day, into the last week, we wanted to do that. We wanted to go for more stage wins, we wanted to beat good riders in the break but sometimes you don’t end up in the break. It’s not that we didn’t try the last week. 

We knew that having four guys trying to stay on GC, that was our aim. If we had Richie Porte… in the end he didn’t have the legs either, the last week. I think that’s the only way we could have done something with Pogačar, if we got him to work, chasing one of our guys who was two minutes down on GC or whatever. 

I think, in the end, it’s just about doing what we think are the best tactics really, to win the race

For sure, we could have done things differently as well but at least we tried different options. I think all the critics say we shouldn’t do that, or we rolled like Team Sky did, or we did whatever - they never come up with any solutions to it, they just criticise.

There are no answers. It’s easy to watch the TV and say this is stupid afterwards. But I think it was a really warm day on Ventoux and we knew that if we put pressure on the whole day, if Pogacar or Vinegegaard cracked, they will lose a lot of time then. 

The middle mountain stages are never really hard enough to make the difference

You never really get to isolate the leaders. And if they are isolated then their team helpers are not far away. Also, there are so many other teams with interest so you have to really take them off from the start. If the race is all over the place and you see all the best riders are starting to jump then maybe you can do something in a chaotic situation, but it’s difficult if it’s not hard enough. 

I think Pogacar wasn’t as good the last week as he was the first week

I think there is a light in the tunnel there. I do still think, to challenge him and Roglic, we need a couple of riders near him at the same time. He was in a different league this year, especially that Col de Romme, Le Grand-Bornand stage, he was extremely good. But also, a lot of things can happen.

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Sophie Hurcom is Procycling’s deputy editor. She joined the magazine in 2017, after working at Cycling Weekly where she started on work experience before becoming a sub editor, and then news and features writer. Prior to that, she graduated from City University London with a Masters degree in magazine journalism. Sophie has since reported from races all over the world, including multiple  Tours de France, where she was thrown in at the deep end by making her race debut in 2014 on the stage that Chris Froome crashed out on the Roubaix cobbles.