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by Dane Cash
August 21, 2020
Photography by Cor Vos
Ineos unveiled its Tour de France roster on Wednesday, and the big reveal turned heads in more ways than one.
The team’s announcement confirmed that Chris Froome would, indeed, miss the Tour de France this year, putting an end to speculation that had been all over cycling media for weeks. But that wasn’t the only big news item from the reveal. We now know that Geraint Thomas won’t be at the Tour either, but Richard Carapaz will, in an as-yet unclear role alongside Egan Bernal and the rest of the team.
Less than two weeks before the start of the Tour, the most dominant Grand Tour team of the past decade has given us plenty to think about. We’ve done just that in an attempt to make some sense of the big storylines that have come out of the Ineos roster announcement.
After so much “Will they, won’t they?” talk, Ineos’ decision to leave Froome off the Tour roster ended up being … not that surprising. In the end, Froome put in a quiet ride at a Critérium du Dauphiné where he was almost certainly trying hard to perform better. That made what might have been a very difficult decision for the team a lot easier to make.
If Froome had been at least decent at the Dauphiné, then Ineos would have been in a tougher spot, trying to weigh the potential contributions of a less-than-peak Froome against an alternative team member. As it stands, all parties involved can acknowledge that he unfortunately hasn’t quite made it all the way back to form after the serious injuries he sustained in 2019. Froome’s plan to change teams inspired plenty of analysis from writers like this one on whether Ineos would take a departing rider to the Tour, but there’s hardly any controversy now that Froome’s form has been shown to be below where it needs to be.
In any case, given his current level of fitness, Froome most likely would have been more of a distraction than a major contributor (even as a domestique) to the Tour lineup, so Ineos can hardly be blamed for leaving him home. We will probably never know exactly which rider made it onto the squad in Froome’s place, but reports before the Tour suggested that Rowe and Amador were on the bubble, and both riders offer a great deal as domestiques, with Rowe a huge asset on the flats and Amador a two-time Grand Tour top-10 finisher with experience helping Carapaz in the mountains.
Hopefully, Froome will be able to continue working his way back to form in time to contend at the Vuelta a España. Considering the fact that it now overlaps with both the Giro d’Italia and some of the Classics, the race could use as many big names in the start list as possible. Froome does love the Spanish Grand Tour. A respectable showing there will be a fine way for him to close the Sky/Ineos chapter of his career.
Despite all the pre-announcement talk about Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas’s absence from the Ineos Tour roster was the non-selection that really stood out to us. Indeed, it’s one of the biggest roster selection surprises in recent memory. Thomas’s last two Tour appearances have ended in a win and runner-up honors behind a teammate. It’d be one thing if Ineos said at the beginning of the year that Thomas would be targeting the Giro, but making this about-face now, less than two weeks before the Tour?
Thomas was a non-factor at the Dauphiné just like Froome, but these are two very different cases. Froome went into the race knowing that he had to prove himself, but it seemed (at least outwardly) that Thomas’ inclusion was a given. The fact that he rode a very quiet Dauphiné – and Tour de l’Ain before that – did not seem like that big of a deal in the immediate aftermath of the race, because surely a healthy Geraint Thomas would make the Tour team regardless of his showing in a tune-up event.
Things obviously played out a bit differently. It seems safe to assume (considering this is Ineos we’re talking about) that the team was not purely going off of Thomas’ recent racing performances in deciding to leave him out of the Tour. Perhaps his numbers in training just weren’t there. Still, leaving him off the squad and essentially having him switch places with Carapaz is a pretty serious change of plans that raises all manner of questions.
A seemingly healthy Thomas would still be a major asset to a Tour team if he was in even decent form, so maybe he’s still miles away from being fit enough to race at a decent level. Alternatively, maybe Ineos wanted him to commit fully to playing a support role rather than going in as a co-leader. Maybe it’s a few different factors; we’ll probably never know the full lay of the land. What we do know is that Thomas’ non-selection is a clear sign that Ineos is not afraid to make surprising and potentially controversial decisions, even involving its biggest stars, if team management thinks those decisions will lead to results.
So where does that leave Thomas? We may not know until he rolls out for the Giro in Sicily in October. We can assume he’ll be motivated to get in form by then, and if he happens to show that form in a race before the Giro gets underway, he will start among the very top favorites for the win. And if he doesn’t deliver at the Giro, well, Ineos has made it clear that the team is not afraid of moving on from its stars without waiting around for them to bounce back, and there is no shortage of Grand Tour hopefuls elsewhere on the roster.
The non-selection of both Froome and Thomas made for the grabbiest headlines that came out of the Ineos Tour team announcement, but Richard Carapaz’s inclusion in the team will probably end up being the most impactful news item of all.
Carapaz winning a stage of the recent Tour of Poland to take the overall lead.
Two weeks ago, Carapaz seemed set to defend his title at the Giro d’Italia, where he would have started among the very top tier of GC favorites. Now, he’s headed to the Tour, where his role is, for now, not entirely clear. In a video explanation of the Ineos Tour roster selection, Dave Brailsford started by saying “we’re going to get Egan and Richard to target yellow,” but went on to call Bernal the “outright leader” for the Tour. So is Carapaz a co-leader or a support rider?
I’d expect he’ll be somewhere in the middle, a second protected rider who will ride for himself unless it becomes clear that the team needs all hands on deck for Bernal. Carapaz may not have built the name recognition of a Bernal, Thomas, or Froome just yet, but he’s a very, very good rider. He did not sign with this team to be a glorified domestique; he signed with the expectation that he would be leading the way at a Grand Tour. If Ineos was hoping to go into this race with a top option and a strong second option, an approach that has worked very well in the past, Carapaz gives them a chance to have that even if team management didn’t feel Thomas was ready.
Bernal on his way to winning last year’s Tour.
That said, you have to wonder what the Carapaz inclusion means about Bernal’s status. The reigning Tour champ has looked great since the resumption of racing, but he abruptly pulled out of the Dauphiné due to back pain. We know very little about how much that is affecting him or whether it is expected to affect him in two weeks.
Hopefully, Bernal is healthy and will get a clean run at defending his Tour title, and it’s entirely possible that that’s just how things play out—but two weeks ago, Carapaz seemed set to race the Giro and now he’s heading to the Tour, with the team principal mentioning him and Bernal in the same breath as targeting yellow. If there is any question of Bernal’s health, Ineos will be glad to have Carapaz, who looked good at the Vuelta a Burgos and in his first few days at the Tour of Poland before he pulled out of that race after a crash.
If both riders are fit and healthy, they will be a very deadly duo for Ineos — two elite climbers at a climber-friendly Tour. Ineos has sometimes (although not always) been a team that has gotten ahead in the time trials and held its lead by stamping out attacks in the mountains, but with the one-two punch of Bernal and Carapaz, Ineos could instead be a team that gets ahead by forcing rivals to respond to dangerous attacks.
From an entertainment perspective, that sounds pretty good to us, so here’s hoping that all the big contenders are healthy and ready for action in time for next week’s start in Nice.