The Tour de France 2020 mobile game has users play as a team in yellow, who ride away from the rest of the bunch at ease to win stages. It's a familiar scenario - it's not quite what Jumbo-Visma have been able to do at this Tour, but on stage 15 they were able to distance the other super-squad at this year's race, Ineos Grenadiers, the team that were supposed to provide the opposition in this battle royale between yellow and navy blue. In the end, the battle hasn't materialised.
The Ineos Grenadiers' defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal lost over seven minutes to Primož Roglič today. To put that into context, the last time that a rider from Sky or Ineos didn't stand on the top step in Paris, David Cameron was Prime Minister, the concept of Brexit hadn't entered the popular consciousness, and the idea of a global pandemic was the subject of horror films, not reality.
In 2014, Chris Froome crashed out and Sky looked ineffective without a recognised leader. This time around, the defending champion slipped off the back of the lead group as Jumbo-Visma applied pressure early on the final climb of the Grand Colombier. Ineos did not have the numbers to pull him back into contention, nor did Bernal have the legs. The 2020 Tour has been the difficult second album for Bernal.
The lead group which crystalised under Jumbo-Visma's pressure had the past and the future of Sky/Ineos Grenadiers - Richie Porte, Mikel Landa, and Adam Yates. The problem was that its present was actually running seven minutes late, in the shape of Bernal. The form of Bernal, hitherto good, has taken a dip, with the Grand Colombier proving too much for him, a couple of days after he lost time on Puy Mary to the Slovenian double act of Roglič and Tadej Pogačar. His team, usually so reliable at the Tour de France, has been notable for its ineffectiveness in the high mountains.
Pavel Sivakov has an excuse, in that he is still recovering from his heavy crash on stage 1. It is also his first Tour de France, let's not forget. The others though, picked for proven ability, have not matched Jumbo-Visma. Andrey Amador has repeatedly drifted back once the road has pointed upwards. Luke Rowe, seen in the recent past pulling the peloton up climbs, has been absent in the hilly and mountainous stages. Richard Carapaz has not been the foil he was expected to be, losing time across multiple stages. Dylan van Baarle has not been particularly present. Even Kwiatkowski and Castroviejo, invaluable in recent Tours de France, have failed to put pressure on the peloton in the way the Sky/Ineos train did in the past.
All the while Ineos Grenadiers have struggled at the Tour, one of the riders they most controversially left out, Geraint Thomas, has been performing well at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he is third in the general classification. To not bring the 2018 Tour winner looks like a large oversight, especially as he comes into form in Italy. Thomas has proved himself a willing ally and worker for his team over the years in France, and it's hardly a coincidence that they look weaker in his absence. Of course, hindsight is 2020, but the team management may now regret their decisive action to leave Thomas and Froome out of the team in favour of Sivakov and Carapaz. Thomas was not just a passenger in the six Tours that his team won, especially when he powered to victory in 2018. His experience, nous, and all-round ability would have strengthened this relatively young Ineos team.
During the Sky/Ineos domination of the Tour between 2012-2019, the massing of their team jerseys at the front of the peloton became a familiar sight, but this year they have been replaced by the yellow and black of Jumbo-Visma, a scene that was displayed at the stage races building up to the Tour de France, too, especially the Tour de l'Ain and the Critérium du Dauphiné. Sepp Kuss, Tom Dumoulin, Robert Gesink, George Bennett, and the two-time stage winner Wout Van Aert have all impressed, digging in to set Roglič up for the win.
It seems that Ineos Grenadiers are so used to their old style of racing that they find it difficult to come up with any fresh tactics to put pressure on their rivals. On stage 13 to Puy Mary, Ineos rode at the front in an attempt to shred the other teams and put opponents out the back of the bunch, but it proved fruitless, and just used up domestiques that were then not around later in the stage. In the end, Bernal was left alone as Roglič and Pogačar attacked. It is as if the team are unable to follow, and are instead stuck in the formula of riding on the front.
Nicolas Portal's absence may also be one reason behind Ineos Grenadiers' struggles at this year's race. The talented sports director passed away earlier this year, and many inside and outside the team have paid tribute to him both as a person and as a tactician. Portal, the man behind Chris Froome's multiple victories, is sorely missed at the squad.
Jumbo-Visma have not yet won this race, and there are still threats to Roglič's lead, especially from his compatriot Pogačar, who won his second stage on the Grand Colombier. They are clearly the most powerful GC team at the race, though, and might well keep burning other squads in their pursuit for the yellow jersey. For Ineos, the GC has gone, and they now have less than a week to rescue their Tour.
Adam Becket is Procycling's staff writer
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