After losing team leader Geraint Thomas to a fractured pelvis on stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia, his team Ineos Grenadiers have been forced back to the drawing board and – for the second time in just a matter of months – must re-set their game plan after losing their GC lynchpin.
At the Tour de France, the British team were able to salvage a stage win through Michał Kwiatkowski after Egan Bernal was forced to leave the race through injury, and their turnaround came after the team rallied in the final week and infiltrated several key breaks.
If they are to add to their Giro d’Italia tally of one stage win and a short stint in the maglia rosa, then a new and aggressive approach must be implemented almost immediately. Losing Thomas this early in the Giro d’Italia is an obvious blow for both rider and team but, if there is a positive to be drawn, it’s that the disappointment came early in the race and, with 18 stages remaining, there are plenty of opportunities left in the race.
The rest of the squad are made up of riders capable of winning throughout the next few weeks and, despite not having a pure sprinter within their ranks, the team can target the majority of days between Sicily and Milan.
Both Rohan Dennis and world time trial champion Filippo Ganna have now been freed up from protecting Thomas on the flat roads around Italy and should therefore be far fresher for the two time trial stages that take place on stages 14 and 21, while Ben Swift has the potential to lead the team into virtually any stage that ends in a reduced bunch sprint.
The British champion may not have won a race outside of the UK in some time but he looked to be in good form on Mount Etna and, like Ganna and Dennis, he now has the chance to target specific stages undeterred rather than work for a GC leader and then dedicate his remaining efforts at taking on rivals such as Michael Matthews.
At the start of stage 4 in Catania, Swift was clearly disappointed to lose his friend and teammate but he was keen to stress that the team would aim to bounce back as quickly as possible.
"He’s [Thomas] in a lot of pain, he landed heavily on his hip and as cyclist, it’s one of worst places to land. He fought really well to finish the stage but then did more scans. It has happened early in the Giro, there are 18 days to go; we’re here to try to win. We’ll try to take any opportunity we can and try to get something from this Giro."
Geoghegan Hart, Castroviejo and Narváez
Swift isn’t the only Ineos rider capable of winning a stage in this year’s Giro. Jonathan Castroviejo – who was pulled from the Tour de France early in order to conserve energy – was eighth on Mount Etna thanks to a well time attacked in the closing kilometers and, although he is probably the team’s most consistent climber on paper, he will probably need to lose time in the overall standings before he is allowed the necessary freedom to target stage-winning breaks.
Tao Geoghegan Hart’s position from this point on is slightly less clear. In theory, he might be given the chance to ride for a GC place in the top 15 and that’s not an impossible ask given both his quality and his 20th place on GC in last year’s Vuelta a España. However, he was unable to go with the overall contenders on stage 3 when they began attacking each other.
That’s somewhat understandable given he only had a few minutes to learn his lines before being thrust from understudy to the role of the main character, but if his form is consistent he could see a greater benefit in riding consistently over the next 18 stages and picking his way through the top 20.
He currently sits 24th overall and is just under two minutes shy of a top 10 but, as with last years’ Vuelta, he could also rely on breaks to help catapult him up the overall standings.
As for the rest of the team, Jhonatan Narváez is riding his second Grand Tour but came into the race on the back of a win in Coppi e Bartali, while Salvatore Puccio is set to remain in his role as road captain. Whatever happens, the team must remain united and look forward rather than dwell on their losses if they are to salvage their race.
"We’ve got to look ahead, there are 18 chances for us to win stages," said Ineos directeur sportif Matteo Tosatto.
"Our team is strong, we’ll change our goals and keep racing. We’ve got the two time trials that suit Rohan Dennis and Filippo Ganna. Our riders are fighters and we’re optimistic we’ll do well."
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.