Why has it all gone wrong for Ineos at the 2020 Tour de France?

Egan Bernal - Why has it all gone wrong for Ineos at the 2020 Tour de France? - AFPEgan Bernal - Why has it all gone wrong for Ineos at the 2020 Tour de France? - AFP

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Egan Bernal – Why has it all gone wrong for Ineos at the 2020 Tour de France? – AFP

1. Should they have brought Thomas and/or Froome?

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Probably the biggest talking point. Would things have been different had Geraint Thomas and/or Chris Froome been riding for Ineos at this Tour? We will never know. And to be honest it’s difficult to see how any combination of Ineos riders would have been a match for Jumbo-Visma. But there will always be that doubt.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”27″>Probably the biggest talking point. Would things have been different had Geraint Thomas and/or Chris Froome been riding for Ineos at this Tour? We will never know. And to be honest it’s difficult to see how any combination of Ineos riders would have been a match for Jumbo-Visma. But there will always be that doubt. 

It was easy to understand why Froome was left out. The seven-times grand tour winner is clearly a long way off his best and would not have been at the sharp end of the GC battle here. And if he’s only playing a support role, why not give the donkey work to someone else?

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="In any case, Ineos had other experienced riders, former grand tour winners, to play the role of joint-leader/plan B/wise old head. Thomas for instance…. The Welshman’s exclusion from Ineos’ lineup was a gamble. The 34-year-old had been part of every Sky Tour team bar one (2012, when Thomas won Olympic track gold instead) and had finished first and second at the past two editions. Admittedly, he was not going brilliantly at the recent Dauphine. But as we are seeing now at Tirreno-Adriatico, he is in decent shape a few weeks on.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”29″>In any case, Ineos had other experienced riders, former grand tour winners, to play the role of joint-leader/plan B/wise old head. Thomas for instance…. The Welshman’s exclusion from Ineos’ lineup was a gamble. The 34-year-old had been part of every Sky Tour team bar one (2012, when Thomas won Olympic track gold instead) and had finished first and second at the past two editions. Admittedly, he was not going brilliantly at the recent Dauphine. But as we are seeing now at Tirreno-Adriatico, he is in decent shape a few weeks on. 

Would he have been a help to Bernal? Could he have made life easier for a 23-year-old who is, lest we forget, racing in only his third grand tour? Hindsight is 20:20, but you have to think he would be doing more than Andrey Amador. Not to pick on the Costa Rican.  

From Thomas’s perspective, he is better off where he is now: building form, preparing for a crack at the Giro, which, if he could pull it off — and it promises to be a great race with Simon Yates clearly in excellent form — would rank far higher on his CV than helping Bernal to another Tour win. But for Ineos? The Richard Carapaz ‘plan B’ has clearly backfired.

Sir Bradley Wiggins is in no doubt. “Just their [Froome and Thomas’s] presence at the dinner table, their presence on the flat stages in the line-up,” he said on his Eurosport podcast on Sunday. “Particularly Geraint. I can’t see Geraint not being in the same position as [Jumbo Visma’s co-leader/domestique de luxe] Tom Dumoulin. I could see him riding in that style if he chose to. A Geraint in that team just changes the whole dynamic. It’ll transpire in the next few weeks what exactly happened.”

2. Has Bernal’s back been an issue?

Egan Bernal - AFPEgan Bernal - AFP

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Egan Bernal – AFP

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Colombian abandoned the recent Criterium du Dauphine due to a bad back and, while he didn’t reach for it as an excuse for his performance on the Grand Colombier on Sunday, there are persistent rumours that it is niggling him. Publicly Bernal has claimed to be feeling okay. He said following his performance on Puy Mary that he was producing some of his “best numbers” and the next day, in Lyon, insisted he was “having fun”. It is difficult to second guess him but the suspicion is that Bernal is not at 100 per cent.” data-reactid=”58″>The Colombian abandoned the recent Criterium du Dauphine due to a bad back and, while he didn’t reach for it as an excuse for his performance on the Grand Colombier on Sunday, there are persistent rumours that it is niggling him. Publicly Bernal has claimed to be feeling okay. He said following his performance on Puy Mary that he was producing some of his “best numbers” and the next day, in Lyon, insisted he was “having fun”. It is difficult to second guess him but the suspicion is that Bernal is not at 100 per cent.

3. Is the DS structure muddled? 

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Sean Yates said it. Who is calling the shots at Ineos? Nico Portal’s tragic death earlier this year at the age of just 40 deprived the British team of arguably the best DS on the planet. Ineos decided against appointing a like-for-like replacement for the Frenchman, opting instead for a shared DS leadership structure at this race, spreading responsibility for tactics between a core group comprising Gabriel Rasch, Servais Knaven and Xabier Zandio. But Yates, the former sporting director, believes that has led to confusion.” data-reactid=”60″>Sean Yates said it. Who is calling the shots at Ineos? Nico Portal’s tragic death earlier this year at the age of just 40 deprived the British team of arguably the best DS on the planet. Ineos decided against appointing a like-for-like replacement for the Frenchman, opting instead for a shared DS leadership structure at this race, spreading responsibility for tactics between a core group comprising Gabriel Rasch, Servais Knaven and Xabier Zandio. But Yates, the former sporting director, believes that has led to confusion.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="“I don’t know if it’s enough to explain their current tactical problems but Nico embodied the success of Ineos, and with success comes confidence,” Yates told L’Equipe. “His death was a shock for the riders – it affected them profoundly. He was pulling the strings for years. Now we don’t really know who calls the shots. It’s quite a fluid situation. In the race, everything must be handled in an automatic way. Once a stage is under way, you don’t have time to hold a videoconference to decide on tactics.”” data-reactid=”65″>“I don’t know if it’s enough to explain their current tactical problems but Nico embodied the success of Ineos, and with success comes confidence,” Yates told L’Equipe. “His death was a shock for the riders – it affected them profoundly. He was pulling the strings for years. Now we don’t really know who calls the shots. It’s quite a fluid situation. In the race, everything must be handled in an automatic way. Once a stage is under way, you don’t have time to hold a videoconference to decide on tactics.”

Yates added that Ineos have become so used to riding in one style – on the front, controlling the peloton – that they are now struggling to work out what to do about Jumbo-Visma, who have proved the strongest team at the race thus far. “When you’ve won so much, it’s hard to adapt,” he said. “If your team has three leaders, as should have been the case last year, for example, making the race hard to weaken your rivals is a logical tactic. But Ineos came to this Tour with one sole leader, who clearly isn’t at the level. They’d be better off staying in the wheels rather than uselessly expending their energy.”

4. Did Ineos get lockdown wrong? 

It has been a weird season for everyone, but other teams appear to have returned in better nick than Ineos. So many of their riders do not appear to be at their top level that questions must be asked of the team and coaching staff. Did they get their lockdown training wrong? Did they get their periodisation wrong? Did they hit the altitude camp in July too hard, resuming the season with dead legs? Head coach Tim Kerrison has not been around to ask. But Ineos’s coaching structure is different to how it used to be. There is a separate Hispanic training group for Bernal/Carapaz etc which is not under Kerrison. Again, this is likely to come out in the wash.

5. Is Brailsford under pressure?

Dave Brailsford - REUTERSDave Brailsford - REUTERS

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Dave Brailsford – REUTERS

Always. Ineos have the biggest budget in the sport and Sir Jim Ratcliffe did not buy the team to see it fail. As captain of the ship, Brailsford takes ultimate responsibility. At the same time, it should be remembered that Ineos have won seven of the past eight Tours, and were the strongest team at every race from 2011 until this year (Jumbo-Visma threatened to expose them last year but did not have a GC rider capable of finishing them off). They can afford to have one off-year.

For whatever reason, they got it wrong here. The death of Portal has clearly hit the team hard, both on and off the road; Froome and Thomas did not return at their top level, putting the team in a tricky position; and the ensuing selection gamble has not paid off, with too much pressure placed on Bernal to deliver. Had it worked — and Brailsford was praised in many quarters for his ruthlessness in cutting Froome/Thomas and selecting Carapaz instead — he would have been hailed for his brilliance. But it didn’t. 

Thomas could still win the Giro, and Froome the Vuelta a Espana. But for now, Ineos, and Brailsford in particular, will have to face up to some searching questions. You can be sure he will be asking them of himself already.

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