Philippa York analysis: Ineos are stuck between strategies at Tour de France

Ineos-Grenadiers at the 2022 Tour de France
Ineos Grenadiers co-leader Geraint Thomas at the 2022 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

All change at the Tour de France 2022. Primož Roglič’s loss of over two minutes to Tadej Pogačar will have a dramatic effect on how the race plays out from now on. And the dislocated shoulder he suffered in the hay bale crash that also took down Caleb Ewan and Jack Haig will surely have future consequences.

Without the injury, the two minutes lost by the Jumbo-Visma leader could have been just a setback. Even with displacement being sorted immediately, Roglič isn't going to be capable of the same movement and efforts as normal. That leaves Jonas Vingegaard as the surviving GC option for the Dutch team.

Going into the cobbled stage, Ineos Grenadiers were talking of it being an opportunity to place Pogačar under pressure, with Dylan van Baarle and Geraint Thomas having a free role to race if an opportunity presented itself. Their other leaders, Adam Yates and Daniel Martínez, would be looked after by everyone else, with more specific duties for Luke Rowe and Tom Pidcock due to their previous experiences on the pavé.

Pidcock, the winner of both Junior and U-23 versions of Paris-Roubaix, has the skills to survive the beaten-up tracks of northern France, but that wasn't necessarily going to be of direct help to the team's climbers, who would be hesitating at the points where the young man from Leeds would be pedalling. It can be more stressful to follow someone that talented than rely on your own judgement, even if it's slightly deficient.

In the end, it was all irrelevant, because stage 5 turned into a complete nightmare for Wout Van Aert's squad, and Ineos lost Filippo Ganna and Jonathon Castroviejo after the first few sectors. Then it became a survival exercise, as the GC group was whittled down and Rowe and Van Baarle were lost to punctures. Thomas fell, but unlike other years he wasn't badly hurt, and he later got back to group chasing Pogačar.

What was most significant for the British team's hopes of potentially exploiting any UAE weakness was that Pogačar often upped the pace instead of being in a position of defence, both on the cobbles and in between sectors when he heard of the difficulties of those considered his biggest rivals. The stress caused would put Ineos in the opposite situation to what they had imagined happening beforehand.

More worryingly, it showed that whatever the terrain, Tadej Pogačar has the game covered. So what now for Rod Ellingworth's men?

A tactical coup could be possible, perhaps on a transition stage, but it's unlikely given that other teams are still racing for stage wins. Who would have predicted that Israel-Premier Tech would win the most contested stage yet? Simon Clarke's win shows that outfits like them and EF Education-EasyPost are willing to participate in the racing each day, even when the commonly held view is that certain days are the reserve of the big GC teams.

Going forward, Ineos find themselves with some difficult decisions to make. Do they hope Pogačar cracks at some point and they are there to pick up the pieces? Or do they turn to stage hunting with the guys who go in the long escapes and the strongest or freshest wins the day?

You have to look then at who is likely to climb in the GC group or at least just in sight of it when the attacks to decide the race are made. Pogačar has outclimbed Adam Yates and Dani Martínez consistently, and there are still some questions over just how well Geraint Thomas will cope with the mountains at this level.

Against an in-form Aleksandr Vlasov, Thomas could be found wanting and then Ineos could enter that slightly forgotten zone of those racing for the places from fourth to tenth in the GC standings. For a team with their budget, history, and expectations, that's probably not going to be enough, so chasing multiple stage wins seems a more realistic option. However, when you've trained for the general classification it's difficult to then adapt to the short bursts of high power needed to get in the escapes and win a sprint at the end if it comes to that conclusion.

At the moment, Ineos find themselves stuck between the GC option and reverting to chasing stage wins. Of course, taking one of the other Tour de France classifications could be possible, but that means going in the breakaways that are out there all day in the mountains and so-called transition stages in this modern era. 

Those are only available if you are not anywhere on GC, and so we come back to the situation of not having the riders to race with Pogačar and Vingegaard for the podium but who also aren't far enough back to be allowed any leeway by others in the same situation. Riders like Rigoberto Urán, Romain Bardet, Damiano Caruso, David Gaudu and Nairo Quintana aren't going to let Geraint Thomas escape without them, and their respective teams will ride to ensure a top ten.

Last year, Ineos salvaged some pride with Richard Carapaz on the podium, but they had no stage wins. That's not what we have come to expect and it's not what the upper echelons of the management anticipate given the successes of the Classics campaign. Time for change, perhaps. 

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