Team Ineos are hoping to turn the challenge of riding the Giro d'Italia without expected leader Egan Bernal into an opportunity for their next generation of young riders, with Tao Geoghegan Hart, Pavel Sivakov, Ivan Sosa, Eddie Dunbar and Jhonatan Narváez given the freedom to race and learn over the next three weeks.
Bernal crashed on Saturday and fractured his left collarbone in one of his last big training rides. He underwent surgery and will soon start training indoors. He is expected to ride the Critérium du Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse before being part of the Tour de France team.
Team Ineos decided against bringing another experienced team leader to the Giro d'Italia, preferring to give their young guns the freedom to race for themselves.
"They're young for sure but I think the expectation is to have fun. There's no expectation but to try to learn," team manager Dave Brailsford insisted at the Team Ineos press conference on Thursday afternoon in the Giro d'Italia headquarters on the outskirts of Bologna.
"We've worked carefully in the last two years to select a young group with the future in mind. We've been doing pretty well with the ‘older' group but you've got to keep one eye on the future and this is their first big step collectively. The first Grand Tour of the season is always exciting, the Giro is always exciting, and now it feels very, very exciting. These guys have got energy, it's their own voyage of discovery. For me as an old guy, it's fantastic to get energy and enthusiasm from them."
Geoghegan Hart and Sivakov sat alongside their boss at the pre-race press conference. Both made their Grand Tour debuts at the 2018 Vuelta a España and, in the absence of Bernal, they were named as Team Ineos leaders for the Corsa Rosa.
They showed they are on form at the recent Tour of the Alps, finishing first and second ahead of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), and showed youthful enthusiasm rather than fear as the hours ticked down to the start of the Giro on Saturday.
"It was definitely strange to hear the news about Egan. I'd been riding with him that day and so it's not what you expect when you're excited for a journey together. We've been talking about this race, planning, and we've invested emotionally in this race for the last six months," Geoghegan Hart said of his emotions when he realised his Giro d'Italia will be very different to what he expected.
"It takes an adjustment but sport is brutal and we're still going to start on Saturday with or without him. But we still want to make the most out of a big three weeks. A Grand Tour presents more opportunities than most other races. There are some of the biggest prizes in cycling to be had in the next month, so it'd be silly to sit here and be sad. I think we'll see Egan back sooner than later, with his arms in the air. Now it's up to us and the rest of team to make first Grand Tour for Ineos special for other reasons."
Sivakov also understood he has a huge opportunity to confirm the talents he showed as an under 23 rider. He is still only 21 but won the Under 23 Giro d'Italia in 2017 along with the mountainous Ronde de l'Isard.
"My first thought was sadness. We would have fought for the win with Egan so there was sadness," Sivakov explained.
"But on the other hand, it opens up and offers opportunities for us. In our sport, when we have opportunities, you have to take them. That's a different but exciting approach. It's actually going to be more mental than physical because the physical effort will not change. I was focused to be at my best to support Egan, now I hope to do something myself."
Sivakov and Geoghegan Hart will start the Giro d'Italia on equal footing.
"I think the road always decides in our sport - that's the way it is," Brailsford confirmed, promising a far more flexible race strategy.
"Normally we go into Grand Tours like we did in the 2018 Giro d'Italia, with a tight, rigid approach on how we want to do it. The joy of this situation is that we can be flexible, we can animate the race, we can make mistakes, learn and even try crazy things. These guys are sensational with what they've done this year and so it's a liberating way to approach a race, without the structure we normally have."
24-year-old Geoghegan Hart is hoping to continue the momentum he created at the recent Tour of the Alps race. He won two stages, the first of his professional career, but is mature beyond his years and seems mentally and physically suited to Grand Tour racing.
"I think there's a lot to be said for momentum in sport, we've seen that in the last days in football in the Champions League," he said. "People love sport because it includes comebacks and things happen. After watching part of the football match the other night, I went to bed thinking that something incredible will happen for me in the days ahead.
"This new team has a whole new generation coming through and we saw that last week with Eddie (Dunbar) and Chris (Lawless) on the podium in the new colours at the Tour de Yorkshire. It's special that as Team Sky we won our last stage race and then won our first race as Team Ineos, with two guys on the podium."