Leaving the rich kids for the cool kids: Owain Doull’s life after Ineos

The Welshman took a risk leaving Ineos for pastures new, but he is loving life at EF.

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Not many British riders voluntarily leave the Ineos Grenadiers, one of the most successful, and definitely the richest team in the peloton.

It’s a relatively comfortable life. You’re paid handsomely, probably better than at another squad, and back home you’ll enjoy more recognisability riding for the team behind Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins in comparison to being employed to turn the pedals for a Bora-Hansgrohe or a Jumbo-Visma.

As such, it takes cojones for a homegrown rider to leave the Ineos Grenadiers for unchartered pastures new.

It would be easy to spend your years on the Death Star picking up paychecks and lining up wherever Dave Brailsford needs you to slot in, but that wasn’t part of the plan for Owain Doull. After spending half a decade with the team since turning pro with Team Sky back in 2017, he decided to make the switch this year to EF Education-EasyPost.

“It’s different but I’m loving it, I’ve got to be honest,” Doull told CyclingTips. “It wasn’t an easy decision to make at the time, when you’ve been somewhere for so long you’re very comfortable in that environment and change can be quite scary. But it was kind of getting to that point in my career where I didn’t want to miss out on riding the races that motivate me.”

After five years with the Ineos Grenadiers, he’d only lined up for one Grand Tour, the 2019 Vuelta a España. Competition for spaces at the most prestigious races will always be tight at a team that attracts top talent.

Doull will turn 29 at the beginning of May and he doesn’t want to eventually end his career with regrets about not riding the races he’s always wanted to. “The Tour is obviously something I want to do and also the Giro. I want to be able to look back on my career and be proud of it and make the most of what ability and level I have,” Doull said.

The decision to leave came to a head last year when Doull didn’t make the squad for a race he believes he had prepared well enough for and was deserving of.

“It was kind of a case of getting to a point last year where I wasn’t selected for a certain race, I’d put a lot of work in, felt I was deserving of a spot and I missed out on it,” Doull said. “When I found out, that for me was kind of the last point where I thought, ‘OK, I’m kind of banging my head against a wall here.’”

Doull says he rang his agent straight away: “I think I need a change,” he told him. “He was also kind of in agreement and then he starts doing his work. Then all of a sudden you’re wearing pink.”

All of a sudden, at the recent Amstel Gold Race, Doull found himself on the receiving end of what he’d been used to doling out as part of the Sky train. Having been up the road on the attack, he turned his head to see his former Ineos teammates driving the pace on the front and absorbing him back into the bunch.

“The shoe was on the other foot,” Doull laughed. At Paris-Roubaix again the next week, Doull stole a march up the road before Ineos ripped the race to shreds and the Welshman was brought to heel. “It is weird and it’s taken me a bit to get used to,” Doull admitted. “When I’ve been sitting at home watching racing, the UAE Tour I think I was watching, and my eyes were just fixed on Sky… Ineos, sorry.”

It’s good to know even the team’s riders struggle to remember the name the British squad has now held for two years.

“Because I’ve been used to watching races and checking how the [Ineos] lads are getting on. ‘Are they in a good spot here? Are they at the front too early?’ Then I caught myself, ‘I’m on a different team now, I’ve got to look out for the pink jerseys,’” Doull said.

This is something his family is grateful for: “My girlfriend and mum were happy when I made the change. ‘We’ll be able to spot you easier in the race,’ they said.

For Ineos, Doull’s departure was bittersweet, the rider believes. Sad to see him go but happy to see him thriving elsewhere. Already, he’s had 14 WorldTour race days at EF. He only managed 20 in each of his two previous seasons at Ineos.

“It is different. I keep in contact with a lot of the staff and riders on Ineos and it’s still nice to have a really good relationship with them. When I’ve spoken to [Ineos] sports directors everyone’s happy to see me doing bigger races and having these opportunities. From my side, I’d like to feel…at least I got the impression…that a lot of people were upset I was leaving the team but also happy for me because they knew it was the better decision and the right move.”

The professional peloton can often be compared to high school, with all of its cliques and occasional backstabbing. But if there was a ‘WorldTour High’, Doull has effectively gone from being one of the rich kids at Ineos to one of the cool kids at EF, a switch many of his fellow pros might envy. The American squad is known for leading the way in cycling aesthetics, sometimes pushing the boundaries past the point of acceptability for Luddite cycling traditionalists.

For the riders, the contemporary feel of EF and the atmosphere surrounding the team is also a selling point, as is the top-tier equipment, ensuring Doull doesn’t have to downgrade his tech even as he leaves Castelli and Pinarello behind.

“Going from Ineos all of the equipment is really good, and fortunately again at EF with Cannondale and Rapha the equipment is really good as well,” Doull said. “I think for sure when you’re looking at changing teams, it definitely is a factor for riders because there’s no point going to a team where if you have a larger paycheck or they’re paying you a certain amount of money but the equipment really isn’t that good it can impact your future. I’m really fortunate with EF that all the sponsors they have on board are top-notch.”

The future seems bright for Doull and EF, and not just because of the pink kit.

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