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Ineos Grenadiers go back to the drawing board in search of lost Tour de France crown

BREST FRANCE JUNE 25 Rod Ellingworth of The United Kingdom Director of Racing Sir Dave Brailsford of The United Kingdom Team Team manager of Team INEOS Grenadiers during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Team INEOS Grenadiers Training LeTour TDF2021 on June 25 2021 in Brest France Photo by Michael SteeleGetty Images
Ellingworth and Ineos boss Dave Brailsford at the Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

Rod Ellingworth has hailed 2021 as one of the most successful seasons in the history of Ineos Grenadiers but recognised a need to "go back to the drawing board" to regain the Tour de France dominance that has been taken over by Tadej Pogačar

Ellingworth spent 2020 as manager of Bahrain Victorious but returned to Ineos Grenadiers as director of racing at the start of this year, albeit in a slightly expanded role to the one he held since the British team’s inception in 2010. 

The team have racked up 35 victories this season, the pick of the bunch being Egan Bernal's at the Giro d’Italia. The team had a remarkable stage racing run in the first half of the year, with victories from Adam Yates at the Volta a Catalunya, Geraint Thomas at the Tour de Romandie, Richie Porte at the Critérium du Dauphiné and Richard Carapaz at the Tour de Suisse.

"We’ve had one of the best seasons we’ve ever had from an actual winning point of view, and the quality of wins," Ellingworth told Cyclingnews

"Catalunya, Romandie, Dauphine… those are fantastic results, across a variety of bike riders as well."

However Ineos Grenadiers were were far less successful in the second half of the season. After Carapaz placed third overall at the Tour de France, the team only won six times, five of which were thanks to the up-and-coming Ethan Hayter.

With the exception of a somewhat anomalous 2020 season, the total of 35 victories was up on their 2019 win tally of 27, but down slightly on the previous four years (43, 35, 39, 43). 

The team’s worst campaign was their debut in 2010, which yielded 22 wins, while their most successful run came in 2012, where they struck 50 times, including a first Tour de France title through Bradley Wiggins. 

"We’re in the business of winning bike races, but you do a hell of a lot of losing in this game," Ellingworth argued.

"We’ve done 260 days of racing and we’ve won 35. I bet Deceuninck-QuickStep are doing 280 days of racing and they’re up to 'only' 60 wins. Some WorldTour teams are down in the single figures, and it’s not like they’re not trying. It’s bloody hard to win a bike race. You should never be disappointed. 

"The way we measure stuff is by looking at how the guys have ridden. Sometimes you don’t win and you learn from that, but in general, the performances have been solid."

That 2012 campaign also saw Wiggins win the Olympic time trial title, and Ellingworth was keen to add Tokyo Olympic gold medals into this year’s equation, even if Tom Pidcock, Richard Carapaz, and Filippo Ganna won their titles in national kits.

"The Olympics is a big focus for us. We’re from an Olympic background with British Cycling and the track, and it excites us,” Ellingworth said. 

"Seeing Tom win the mountain bike set things off fantastically, and then with Richard in the road race and Filippo on the track, and then Ethan with a medal [on the track] as well. That was brilliant. The Olympics always makes it a different year, so that was great."

SEGA DI ALA ITALY MAY 26 Egan Arley Bernal Gomez of Colombia and Team INEOS Grenadiers Pink Leader Jersey celebrates at podium during the 104th Giro dItalia 2021 Stage 17 a 193km stage from Canazei to Sega di Ala 1246m Champagne UCIworldtour girodiitalia Giro on May 26 2021 in Sega di Ala Italy Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Another year out of yellow

While Ellingworth noted that Bernal had "got his flair back" to win the team their second successive Giro and their third in four years, Ineos Grenadiers had to endure another year without the yellow jersey of the Tour de France. 

Wiggins' 2012 victory kicked off a run of seven titles in eight editions, with Chris Froome winning four, followed by Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal in 2018 and 2019. However, Jumbo-Visma have since emerged as a rival collective force and Pogačar has dramatically broken through with back-to-back titles that have already seen the 23-year-old dubbed the new Eddy Merckx. 

Ellingworth was keen to point out that Carapaz’s third place at this year's Tour de France was "a bloody respectable ride" but acknowledged that a re-think is needed if they’re to regain their former perch.

"We are against perhaps one of the greatest Grand Tour riders ever seen in Pogačar, so we don’t take it lightly. It’s not like we can just waltz in without any thought. Like most teams, we’ll go back to the drawing board and have a damn good look at it. We’re going to come back fighting next year, that’s for sure," Ellingworth told Cyclingnews.

"It’s a big challenge but a good one. UAE and Jumbo-Visma are doing a brilliant job. We’ve already started looking at what it’s’ going to take to win these bike races. The racing style is changing, people are going at it earlier. Look at [Mathieu] Van der Poel and [Remco] Evenepoel. It’s phenomenal. It’s great to see these young guys racing."

Whereas Team Sky dictated the terms of engagement in professional cycling for a long period, part of their visit to that drawing board involves trying to tap into this new direction in the sport. The team had already made several young signings in the past two seasons but the rejuvenation has intensified in this current transfer window, which comes under Ellingworth’s new remit. 

Several riders, including Gianni Moscon and Rohan Dennis, are moving on, while the three signings they have made – Luke Plapp, Magnus Sheffield, and Ben Tulett – are all 20 or younger. 

"We’ve deliberately gone down the route of some younger guys. There are some really interesting things going on, and there’s a change in the sport, for different reasons. Young kids are better educated, going through the system better," Ellingworth said.

"Look at them, they’ve all got the package from a young age. Look at the junior TT the other day [at Worlds]. It was pretty phenomenal, really, how quick they went. You’ve got to go with the change a bit."

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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.