Opinion: The more Ineos leaders at the Tour, the better
With a mere eight days left before the 2021 Tour de France, teams across the pro peloton are getting in their last training tune-ups and finalizing their tactical game-plans. Many squads have already announced their Tour lineups, including the Ineos Grenadiers, who will bring a star-studded squad to the battle for yellow.
We still don’t know, however, how they plan to leverage all of that talent. With Geraint Thomas, Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Richie Porte all set to race, who will make the start as the anointed leader?
There has been at least some buzz about Thomas being the nominal top option for the squad, with Porte saying as such in a recent interview, but Carapaz has won the Tour de Suisse since then and the team has not confirmed anything. The Ineos Grenadiers avoided specifics in its recent roster unveiling, with Dave Brailsford instead hinting that the team will take an aggressive approach to the Tour. At the moment, it’s all shrouded in a bit of mystery.
That means we can still offer up armchair opinions on how things could play out – and I, for one, think Dave Brailsford should take a really, really aggressive approach to this race. I’m hoping the team opts for a multi-pronged attack, and the more prongs, the better. A trident would be fine, but if you ask me, the Ineos Grenadiers should go all-in on what some of my CyclingTips colleagues have dubbed a fork.
I know what you’re thinking: The multiple-leader approach just can’t work. Movistar has tried and failed, and tried again and failed again. Twenty-first-century cycling rewards powerhouse teams that rally around a single leader. But hear me out …
Typically, all those concerns have been true, and, ideally, the Ineos Grenadiers wouldn’t need to take four leaders into the race. I’m sure Dave Brailsford would rather have the consensus top stage racer in cycling on his roster so that he could put the full force of the old Sky train behind him. It worked so many times before.
The thing is, that tried and true approach only succeeds when you also have the best rider in the race. As much as the critics liked to claim that Chris Froome’s run of success at the Tour was all down to the team, it was about so much more than that. When Froome’s teammates were setting those high tempos and wearing everyone down, Froome was facing those same challenges. If Froome wasn’t the best rider in the race, isolating his rivals would not have achieved much, because he still would have had to drop his rivals to gain time on them.
Fortunately for him, Froome was the best rider in the race, which meant that he could capitalize on his rivals’ weakness early on, either in the TTs or on the climbs, and then survive to the end with a healthy lead.
If the Ineos Grenadiers try that approach this year, putting all but one of their big names to work at the front, perhaps they will isolate Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic. Then what? At the end of the day, Geraint Thomas or Richard Carapaz will still have to out-match their rivals head-to-head. I just don’t see that happening. Pogacar and Roglic are as good or better at time trials than anyone on the Ineos roster, and while the many big names on the Ineos lineup have had plenty of success going uphill in the one-week races so far this year, Pogacar and Roglic are a cut above in the climbing department.
The only way the Ineos Grenadiers will beat last year’s winner and runner-up is by mixing things up. Taking the fight to them. Firing off so many attacks in the mountains that maybe, just maybe, one will get away.
It’s not a strategy that works often, but then, isn’t it almost always the underdogs who try it anyway? It’s not like any of Mikel Landa, Nairo Quintana, or Alejandro Valverde were expected to win the 2019 Tour de France, when their famed trident was at its most gloriously dysfunctional (and when they still managed to place three riders inside the top 10, by the way).
We remember so many failed multi-prong attacks, but their odds of success were never good in the first place – or else they wouldn’t have been trying their luck.
The Ineos Grenadiers have already proven they can thrive with a decide-on-the-road, dual-leader setup. Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal both took their respective Tour titles under those circumstances, when both entered the race among the top favorites. I’m hoping, however, that this year’s team will take things much further. This isn’t about simply letting the road decide, it’s about going all-in on attacks, because that’s the team’s best chance at winning, or at least of making things interesting for the rest of us.
The Ineos Grenadiers will be in the unique position of having the strongest team at the 2021 Tour while not having one of the top two overall favorites. If there was ever a year to try to the fork, it’s this one.
At the moment, Carapaz and Thomas look like the team’s best bets for overall success, with Porte also in flying form and Geoghegan Hart at least solid at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné. Each of those four riders should be as strong as all but only a handful of GC hopefuls at this year’s Tour, while not being quite as strong as the Slovenian duo at the top of the pecking order.
With that in mind, here’s hoping Brailsford and co. decide to try their luck with some long-range attacks on a decisive mountain stage, perhaps sending Geoghegan Hart off the front early, then launching Porte, and then Carapaz, leaving Thomas to try one last attack on Roglic and Pogacar should all three prior moves get reeled in. If you ask me, stage 8 looks like a good opportunity for fork fireworks, with three first-category climbs inside the last 60 km.
If things don’t work out, it’s not like Ineos will be worse off than if they’d tried the old fashioned way to out-climb Pogacar and Roglic in the high mountains. To put it simply, the old-fashioned way probably won’t work.
And if those aggressive tactics do work out? As soon as an Ineos Grenadier does get a solid advantage, the squad can transform into one of those locomotive-like teams of old, setting a high tempo to discourage attacks and run out the clock on the yellow jersey. They certainly have the firepower and the tactical know-how to pull that off, if they can just find a way to get that lead first.
The way I see it, a multi-pronged attack is their best chance to win – and at the same time, it may be our best chance for an entertaining race, upsetting the apple cart of two dominant Slovenians who might otherwise throttle the competition.