Philippa York: Silence isn't golden for Ineos' Tour de France failure

Ineos Grenadiers at the Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

A lesson many dominating characters learn the hard way is that despite the importance of winning if you want to be truly loved by fans then it is important to be gracious in defeat. It was something which even five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault learned, or at least pretended to, but then at least he understood there was an effort to be made. Begrudgingly or not.

If it's a trait which even the most viciously competitive of characters can eventually come around to then you would think that those known for saying they are going to be open, transparent, and doing things in a modern way would have embraced the idea from the very start. One might phrase it as a communication strategy that shapes the narrative, but let's not be condescending towards Dave Brailsford and his Ineos team.

The team press conference on a rest day of a Tour de France (opens in new tab) isn't a rare thing, it's what every team has been doing since time immemorial. Talking up their chances, giving out some hint of plans, ambitions, or reasons for past performances - they are a time to generally speak about how things have gone so far and what the rest of the race might hold. So, with the hardest part of the 2020 Tour de France still to come, Monday, September 14 - the second day of rest, we waited to hear when the Ineos Grenadiers (opens in new tab) press conference would be taking place.

And we waited.

And we waited.

We waited so long that it became Tuesday and still nothing. Promised appearances by video or otherwise from the team management didn't happen and therefore we can only assume that we were to make our own deductions about what to say about the all-conquering set-up that has controlled and won seven out of eight of the recent Tours. When you saying nothing, then others, in this case, the media, will fill in the vacuum of information for you.

I know that assuming anything is a recipe for disaster but in this case, questions which were waiting to be posed have remained unanswered, even after Dave Brailsford finally broke cover (opens in new tab) and spoke to one journalist on Tuesday.

Let's start with the obvious. What happened to Egan Bernal? Could his demise on the slopes of the Grand Colombier be due to a bad back first flagged up at the Critérium de Dauphiné? If so, then why was he out for a training ride the day after he abandoned the pre-Tour race.

Looking at how the defending champion got gradually worse towards the third week instead of better, as the team promised would happen, then you can only deduce that something has gone wrong in the planning of his form. He appears tired, worn out, without freshness and it can't be over racing, which means you have to blame his training.

Apply the same regard to the rest of Ineos and apart of Michal Kwiatkowski, they've all been below par. Amador and especially Sivakov have attenuating circumstances by dint of being injured in crashes. I've seen them having to warm up before stages to ensure they're some way ready for the pain that they will have to go to, but where have the others been?

There have been cameos when the team has taken temporary control of the peloton and they’ve tried to dictate the pace, however, it was an illusion, and the only people they hurt were themselves.

Since racing resumed we’ve seen that the team hasn't imposed themselves and there's been talk that the level has moved on. At the Dauphiné, it was Jumbo-Visma who were in control and there was the suggestion that the Dutch team had peaked too early. Well, that hasn't happened, even slightly, and more worryingly teams like Sunweb, Bora and EF Pr Cycling have had more effect on the racing than Dave Brailsford's squad.

We've continually been told that the victory at the Tour is the only objective of the British-based team and the selections made, the planning done beforehand and every little detail has been gone over to ensure their victory. Except it's all gone wrong in this COVID-19 affected year. Despite the pillows and the lightweight wheels.

They have two days left to salvage a stage win but I'd be surprised if any of the riders can manage that. They've been prepared and trained to make the tempo, not place accelerations or win sprints. As we've seen with Lennard Kämna dropping the Giro winner Richard Carapaz on stage 16 (opens in new tab), the malaise is profound.

You could argue that their usual plan has been upset by the virus but other teams have managed the situation better. Maybe we ought to remember the words uttered in 2015 by the team management concerning their five-year plan.

"Our mission for 2020 is very simple – for Team Sky to be indisputably and consistently the best cycling team in the world."

Here we are in 2020 and the hubris of the statement is apparent. They haven't been consistent this year and they seem to be in dispute too.

The recent interviews given by Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome have only added to the confusion over recent selections and decisions. It seems everyone has forgotten the state of affairs mid-August, when neither rider was good enough at the Dauphiné, despite them saying that they expected a leadership role for the Tour. 

They weren't selected because their form simply wasn't where it had to be so it's all very well to now be suggesting things would have been different. They wouldn't be because as we've seen Ineos riders in better condition than they were aren't competitive with Roglič and company. You can't say I didn't merit selection one week and then change it the next. 

Dave Brailsford and his Directeur Sportifs assembled their best team based on the information of the time and now we are in the Tour they've come up short. Having Thomas or Froome in France wouldn't have changed that because this is looking like a collective failure.

Therefore, we come back to the silence concerning the reasons of that failure because when you have said you have the best people, the best backing, science and talent that a considerable budget can buy, then there are legitimate questions that will be asked. Like what do you think happened, what lessons will be learned and why are other teams doing a better job with less than half the resources?

Would it have been better to give your young riders a chance instead of continually buying up anyone who is winning the bigger stage races? Because that's not necessarily building a core group who feel valued and respected.

When you dominate as Sky/Ineos have done, there comes a time when it starts to unravel, history tells us that. What matters now is how you handle that situation and how gracious you are in defeat.

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Philippa York is a long-standing Cyclingnews contributor who provides expert racing analysis. As a professional rider, she finished on the podium at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, as well as winning the mountains classification at the 1984 Tour de France.