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Empire State of Mind: Where to now for Team Ineos

Going into the 2020 Season it looks like Team Ineos has the strongest team of all time put together. In reality, is this true? Or could they be heading for what looks like a different style of team altogether?

When you say the names Carapaz (Current Giro Winner), Bernal (Current Tour de France Winner), Thomas (Last year’s Tour de France Winner) and Froome (4 x Tour de France, Giro, 2 x Vuelta) you have to wonder what they can’t win next year, in reality how do you manage these riders and get them to ride for someone else. Which brings us to the point if you look past the headline names are Team Ineos changing to a model of Galácticos, rather than structure around a defined leader.

If we look back at previous Grand Tour wins for Sky/Ineos you can see they have a structure to the team, a couple of Rouleurs/Gregarios, a couple of mountain domestiques, a trusted lieutenant and a leader. Looking past the Galácticos and you get a sense of a team on the wane. Elissonde, Rosa, Poels, Halvorsen on the way out, and you have to look where the slack will be taken up. You also have to factor in, Kiryienka and Knees are no longer the forces they were in years past. Previously you saw Sky/Ineos sign the likes of good GC challengers (Roche, Kwiatkowski, Nieve, Landa) and make them into supercharged domestiques for the defined leader (Froome/Thomas/Wiggins). Now we have 4 possible leaders, with only three possible Grand Tours, so we now have a conundrum on our hands as to how Sky will play it.

If we look to this year’s Tour de France we can possibly see a glimpse into how they intend to play their role going forward. It’s going to be less about the front foot dominance and more about well we think we have the two best contenders in the race, it’s up to everyone else to get rid of us. It’s pushback time. You could see this year that the Tour de France was less controlled from Ineos and they were okay with taking a more passive approach. They still kept Thomas and Bernal up the front and out of trouble but they weren’t attempting to ride tempo all day and launch themselves at the final climbs. Now there is a slight aside here, was this by design, or by circumstance, but more on that later.

I think they have gone out and purchased what they see as the most capable GT Contenders for the next 5 years and will put them in a position to make their own attacks on GC. You can see how Movistar executed that this year in the Giro with Carapaz, and how Bernal stole a march in the Tour de France before the stage was cancelled.
There are drawbacks to this, if we look at Movistar over the past few years were they’ve left the road sort out the favoured rider it really hasn’t worked. And sometimes the road doesn’t necessarily give you the result you want. We look at the 2018 Tour de France and how Thomas was clearly the best rider, but the plan was clearly to back Froome. Even to the point that Thomas didn’t have the favoured rider status in the TTT, they still backed Froome.

The other fly in the ointment of this plan is the rise of Jumbo Visma over the past few years, and they are aligned with some super domestiques behind a singular leader. And now with the signing of Tom Dumoulin they’ve added a superstar to slot in at the top of their train. They really look like a team that will challenge the status quo of the past few years.

Now that question from earlier, I think a couple of events have aligned at Team Ineos and this has been less by design and more by circumstance. I think for sure they have had the policy to recruit the best, and younger riders than before. This has happened alongside another event, the leaving of the man who seems to have been the glue in the team Rod Ellingworth. You look at the way Poels and Kwiatkowski were really off the boil in the Tour De France, and how the rest of the team this year has failed to fire as a collective unit in the three Grand Tours and you’ve got to look at a management failure. Ellingworth was put on gardening leave quite early in this season and perhaps the slack wasn’t quite taken up by others. I don’t see Ellingworth as a messiah and guru that held all the training secrets, but he was just that guy who did everything. And in an organisation sometimes when a person like that leaves, it takes some time to replace him, and in fact he maybe irreplaceable and it could end up that the position is eventually carved out into separate more defined roles.

This transition in both management and purchasing is signalling an alignment to the idea that this year’s Tour De France may be the method of winning we see more often than not from Team Ineos. It also means that Team Ineos have evolved before the Tour De France has had a chance to, we can see with the 2020 route, they are looking for a less controlled race, they are looking to climbs that don’t favour one strong team to ride tempo, as we have seen previously. They are looking towards the individual, and Team Ineos have gathered the most talented individuals, for such an occasion.

The King is dead long live the King.

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