Ineos Grenadiers team manager Dave Brailsford has insisted that his team will bounce back from their worst sporting defeat in the Tour de France on Sunday and he insisted that he did not make a mistake in not selecting 2018 winner Geraint Thomas for the race.
Since its inception as Team Sky in 2010, Brailsford has overseen his team’s rise to become the dominating force in cycling’s biggest bike race. The team has won seven Tours in eight years with four different riders, as well as adding three other Grand Tour titles.
However on Sunday Egan Bernal, the team’s sole leader in the 2020 Tour, lost over seven minutes, and his shock defeat marked the end of an era in which Sky and then Ineos stood head and shoulders above the rest of the field. In 2019, the team took first and second overall in Paris, now they are chasing stage victories, while Bernal suffers with back pain.
Speaking for the first time since Bernal's challenge derailed, Brailsford was adamant that although Ineos was out of the 2020 GC battle, the fight to try and win the Tour in 2021 had already begun for the team.
"When we had the rest day and took stock of the situation, there was nobody looking in the mirror more than us," Brailsford said.
"It's a bit of a test of pride, passion and character now, to come back from this for the rest of the week. But as far as we are concerned this is the first day of trying to win the Tour de France next year."
Brailsford said that Ineos would be using the third week of the 2020 Tour de France as a testing ground for the following year, as well as fighting "to get something out of the race, and maybe do a few things we wouldn't normally risk doing."
On Tuesday's opening stage, Ineos placed Andrey Amador, Richard Carapaz and Pavel Sivakov in the day-long break. Richard Carapaz took second on the stage after forcing the pace on the final first category ascent of the Montée de Saint-Nizier-de-Moucherotte, but he was distanced by Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) over the summit of the climb.
Brailsford insisted that the non-selection of Geraint Thomas in the Tour de France – deemed to be lacking in sufficient race condition but who recently bounced back to a podium finish in Tirreno-Adriatico – was the correct option for the team to take.
He also analysed Chris Froome's situation as the four-time winner continues to battle back after his appalling training crash in the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2019.
"I'd never judge myself on somebody else's narrative to be honest," Brailsford said.
"It was a good decision, regardless of what anybody else may think, and Chris is where Chris is at. He's just not ready yet for this level of competition and I think he knows that himself.
"He's doing a fantastic job of getting back to where he needs to be but on both of those fronts [Thomas and Froome – ed.] we will go back and see what we can learn."
Asked if he had gambled on the selection, Brailsford retorted: "I don't gamble."
"People are entitled to their opinions, but I didn't gamble with the selection. They were big decisions. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. I'm sure that people have a lot to say but they're not privy to the facts that I've got."
Bernal will come back from defeat
Brailsford seemed convinced that Bernal would be able to come back from this defeat to succeed at the highest level, although he did not reveal whether the Colombian would automatically be back at the Tour for Ineos in 2021, saying it was too early for those kinds of decisions would be taken.
He did feel, however, that Bernal would be certain to go all the way to Paris this time round – "that's the aim," Brailsford said – though the team would monitor him carefully. On stage 16, Bernal slipped back on the last first category climb, the Saint-Nizier-de-Moucherotte – and finished over 27 minutes down.
"That wasn't his normal performance on Sunday," Brailsford said.
"He wouldn't normally be out of that lead group — he might be 30 seconds better, 30 seconds worse — but he'd be in the mix. But he's proud, it's not in his nature to quit."
Bernal said after the finish of stage 16 that he's suffering with knee and back pain, and likely won't be able to fight for a stage win on the Col de la Loze.
"Today I was suffering all day, with back pain and it was increasing. On the last climb, it was also in my knee," he said. "I am fucked up on all sides."
The loss of the late Nicolas Portal as directeur sportif has also been cited by some as an explanation for the team's travails. But Brailsford said he preferred to look at the overall structure of the squad, "from top to bottom, starting with myself."
But he did not feel that there would be any issues with Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the team owner, over Ineos' stunning defeat on Sunday.
"He knows it's part of sport," Brailsford said. "He won it last year, at the first time of asking, so I think he understands."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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