Team Ineos may have lost Chris Froome to a Critérium du Dauphiné crash but the powerful British team still head into the Tour de France with Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal as prospective candidates for the maillot jaune.
That said, their directeur sportif, Nicolas Portal, has warned that the team must start strongly with several key stages dotted within the first week. Although the first stage in Brussels is likely to end in a bunch sprint the following day comprises of a 27.6km team time trial around the Belgian capital. The time gaps expected could be crucial over the three-week race and it's little wonder that Team Ineos arrive at the race with a team of individuals who race well against the clock. On stage 6 the race reaches the first summit finish of the 2019 edition of the race at La Planche Des Belles Filles and the gaps could once again prove critical in the race for the coveted yellow jersey.
"We've lost Chris to his recent crash, but we've got Geraint, who won last year, where he was clearly the strongest rider. Then of course, we have Egan, so we've got two good cards to play. We have got a strong team," Portal said.
"At this Tour you have to be pretty good at the beginning. You have the TTT on the second stage of the Tour, so your team in general has to be really strong. You don't want to give time on that day, because that is where the team actually really can help the leaders. A couple of days after that, you have the first summit finish, that is going to be really hard at La Planche des Belles Filles. And it is a new finish, so after the TTT and La Planche des Belles Filles you are going to have some gaps and you will kind of see the make-up of the GC at that point. So you have to be good straightaway in week one."
Team Ineos head into the race with Bernal a recent overall winner at the Tour de Suisse and Thomas the defending Tour de France champion. Although Froome and a raft of other GC candidates are missing from this year's start list, the caliber of competition is still remarkably high. The French lead with Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, while Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fugslang are also prominent starters. Portal predicts a tight race as Team Ineos – formely known as Team Sky – look to claim their seventh title in eight years.
"The Tour de France is always tough, and this year will be no different I am sure. It keeps getting harder to win this race, because the difference is getting smaller between the teams and the riders are getting stronger all of the time, so it is going to be super tough yet again. But I think it is a Tour de France route that suits us pretty well. There are a lot of altitude mountains and finishes at altitude, which is what this group likes."
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