In the wake of Team Ineos' decision to leave Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas out of their Tour de France squad, Jumbo-Visma, the British team's biggest rivals for the yellow jersey, have reacted with surprise, with directeur sportif Merijn Zeeman saying that the news was unexpected.
Before today, both teams were set to field a three-leader setup for the Tour, with Froome, Thomas and reigning champion Egan Bernal to lead Ineos while Primož Roglič, Steven Kruijswijk and Tom Dumoulin will head up Jumbo-Visma.
Zeeman said that the team expected the two Tour winners to form part of the leadership trio for what will then be known as the Ineos Grenadiers.
"No, it was a surprise for us," Zeeman told Cyclingnews on Wednesday morning. "Normally I would have expected that those guys would go. But it's always difficult [to judge] from a distance because you never know what kind of performance plan is behind the preparation. Every team has their own approach.
"Also for us, we didn't take too many conclusions from the Dauphiné because you never know what the big plan is behind a strategy. It's also possible that they have a plan already. So, it will be exciting. We'll have to see now."
2019 Giro d'Italia winner Richard Carapaz was an unexpected addition to the Tour squad, having previously been set to defend his title in October. Andrey Amador is also in, joining the expected squad members Jonathan Castroviejo, Michał Kwiatkowski, Pavel Sivakov, Dylan van Baarle and Luke Rowe.
With two current Grand Tour champions on the roster, a rising GC star in Sivakov, and a number of top domestiques, the Ineos squad barely looks any weaker for the exclusion of Froome and Thomas – if at all. Zeeman held the same view, hailing the strength in depth of the British team.
"Normally I would always say that they're not stronger because these two guys [Froome and Thomas – Ed.] are world-class riders, but it's Ineos and they have such strong depth in their squad that they can bring the Giro d'Italia winner who normally wouldn't go to the Tour. So, I think they have a very strong team," Zeeman said.
"Their replacements for Froome and Thomas are impressive riders, but of course it was also a surprise obviously. In these times after the Corona break, every team is making plans in the winter, but it's clear in the end that it's decided one week before the Tour de France. Anything can happen during all the parts of preparation.
"They've made their choice and I believe they're such a big squad with very strong riders that I think they have a very strong team. They're able to fight for yellow with these guys.
Zeeman said that the changes will certainly change the dynamics of the race and strategies used. The Dutchman said that Ineos will likely now be more focussed on Bernal's chances rather than a shared leadership. Sivakov, after all, has only raced one Grand Tour during his career, finishing ninth at last year's Giro, while Carapaz is presumed to have been training to peak at this year's Giro.
"It depends on the strategy, of course. Normally we were prepared for an opponent with a trident strategy as well but now probably it will be more focussed on Bernal. Of course, that changes something in the strategy.
"First, we have to see exactly how they race. They will not tell us, but it depends on the role of Sivakov and Carapaz. Is it all-in for Bernal or do they have plans to race with more leaders, a more open strategy? It's something we'll see during the race, I guess."
Kruijswijk Tour decision to come at weekend
While Ineos have made their decision based on form and tactics, Jumbo-Visma might yet make changes of their own. Co-leader Steven Kruijswijk, third at the Tour last year, suffered a dislocated shoulder and cut to his elbow after crashing out of the Critérium du Dauphiné on stage 4.
As a result, the Dutch rider is in a race against time to recover in time for the Tour, and Jumbo-Visma could be forced to call on a reserve rider, Zeeman said. Roglič, who also crashed and later abandoned, is doing better, having hurt his hip and suffered road rash.
"It will depend on the coming days," Zeeman said about Kruijswijk. "Steven crashed really bad. He's still in a lot of pain, he has wounds and a pain in the shoulder. He's trying to train a little bit and look after his recovery, so we're in intense contact every day. I expect that at the weekend we'll make a decision about that.
"Primož is going well. Of course, he has to recover as well, but we're optimistic about his recovery.
"We have some riders on standby. This week we're looking at all the options and analysing how everyone's shape is. That's something we'll look after now for the coming week. We have some options and it's something we'll do internally, with respect to Steven and the riders who could replace him."
Climber and super-domestique Laurens De Plus, who has been linked with a move to Ineos for 2021, would normally step up in the case of a leader being forced out, but he's not among the riders on standby should Kruijwsijk be unable to make it, said Zeeman.
"He hasn't recovered yet. He still has medical problems. He's slowly recovering but he's absolutely not ready to participate. He would be by far the best guy to come in but unfortunately, he's still recovering. We're hoping for him to be at the Giro but he's not ready to be at the Tour."
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