It's a rare thing when two riders from the same team come to the finish of a race together at the Tour de France. The famous example is Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond at Alpe d"Huez in 1986, a day where they dominated the Tour and their rivals. It was a historic ride.
Being at the very front of the race is something that Dave Brailsford has been used to for a long while, his team has imposed themselves at the Tour de France seemingly at will and so this year has been a stark lesson in dealing with disappointments.
While the abandonment of Egan Bernal would have been a major blow to team morale the last three days have shown that despite the less than lackluster performances of the first two weeks of the race the final part has been very different. No longer concerned by the GC battle a refocusing has obviously taken place for the remaining Ineos Grenadier riders. It's what the best teams do: they take stock, decide what's achievable, and commit their resources to it.
Richard Carapaz may have been a last-minute inclusion and originally scheduled to do the Giro d'Italia but he's been the team’s biggest presence in the Alps and the rides he has produced on stages 16,17 and 18 have been outstanding. By getting in the early break on each of those days he's put himself in the best position to become part of the fight for the mountain classification and though on the Villard-de-Lans stage he came up against a Lennard Kamna who out manoeuvered him, there has been a clear intention to target the climber’s prize.
At Méribel, Carapaz had a fantastic ride which, if not for Bahrain-McLaren, he would have won the stage and taken the polka-dot jersey. The way he fought up until the final kilometres indicated that he was still strong, so it was no surprise to see him and Michal Kwiatkowski in break again today and riding aggressively.
This has been the perfect way to answer the discussions over the pre-Tour selections, the Bernal abandon, the weaknesses of the Ineos collective compared to Jumbo-Visma. By changing the plan to chasing stage wins and having Carapaz put himself in the game for a major classification it's given the whole squad a new purpose as the peloton heads towards Paris.
We were all very quick to speculate that the organisation that gave us Team Sky and then Ineos GC wins was on the downward slope and wouldn't have any influence on the race anymore. The demonstration on the road to La Roche-sur-Foron showed that it was premature and that the spirit and character of the squad is still present. Dealing with the disappointments and defeats up until now won't have been easy and the comments made, mine included, have been answered in a manner which leaves no doubt that news of the Ineos Grenadiers demise has been premature.
It would be unwise to presume that today's victory will satisfy the ambitions of the team backed by Jim Ratcliffe but if the news of the various recruitments is true then we can surmise that the process of building up the squad again into the super-team it was previously has begun without any delay
It was evident from the emotion shown by Michal Kwiatkowski in his post race interviews that this victory meant a lot to the former World Champion, not just because it was his first Tour de France stage win, but because they had been through difficult days lately. With the loss of DS Nicolas Portal still being present in their minds there wasn't a better way for all of Dave Brailsford's staff and riders to show that despite the problems and the issues that have arisen here they intend to keep trying, keep fighting and celebrate the memory of their much-loved Frenchman.
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