“You’re only as good as your last race” is cycling’s version of “what have you done for me lately?” and Team Ineos’s selection for the Tour de France is a clear demonstration. Out go Thomas and Froome, in come Carapaz and Amador.
🚴♂’Proud and motivated’ Team Jumbo-Visma fully committed to Tour de France.⤵#samenwinnen
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) December 20, 2019
Arch rivals Jumbo-Visma announced their Tour de France team last December which looked like both a plan and also a hostage to fortune. Sure enough Laurens de Plus is off the squad but in comes George Bennett, a like-for-like replacement. Otherwise the plan has held up, assuming Steven Kruijswijk’s shoulder has popped back into place. It’s easy to ascribe this to some kind of genius and management talent but, well, they just picked their best eight riders for the Tour de France route.
Team Ineos Grenadiers for TDF . No Thomas. No Froome.
Dylan van Baarle
— José Been (@TourDeJose) August 19, 2020
Still it’s a contrast to Ineos where if you told someone their Tour de France starting eight back in January it would have sounded about as likely as… the Tour de France being moved to September. Nevermind the pandemic, plenty has changed at Ineos in recent weeks. It started with a confident interview by Egan Bernal in the Colombian press, followed by reports suggesting Ineos were unable to guarantee Froome sole leadership. Froome entered the jobs market and signed for Israel. We’ve gone from three leaders to one very quickly.
The road decided
Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas struggled in recent races. Arguably Froome has been off the pace for some time, before his horror crash in 2019 he’d had a quiet start to the season, understandable perhaps of the Giro-Tour double in 2018 but still his quietest time results-wise since 2012. Even just before the infamous crash in the Dauphiné, on the stage to Craponne his tongue was hanging out and he needed Wout Poels to close gaps to Thibaut Pinot and Jacob Fuglsang. Since then there’s been a big rehab work and the UAE Tour was just a test. As Froome put it himself in a tweet he’s come a long way in a year. But he was also tweeting about “prepping for the Tour de France” and “form incoming” last week too. There was no mention of the Vuelta, although a month ago now The Cycling Podcast’s Richard Moore and La Gazzetta’s Ciro Sconomiglio were both airing the idea that Froome could be touring Spain instead of France.
The Tour de l’Ain’s a neat little race, it’s got some tough climbs where there’s no hiding. We saw Froome working for the team but when he took his big pull on the Grand Colombier both Guillaume Martin and George Bennett used the moment to drop back to their team cars to fetch drinks when in years past they’d have braced for a lactic acid bath. Thomas was also struggling here, dropped midway on the Col des Menthières on Stage 2 and if he did some team work the following day, he was out the back before Andrey Amador who’s taken his place. It meant questions over selection for the pair of them going into the Dauphiné and the week didn’t bring any positive answers. The Col de Porte saw Froome unable to do a turn after Michał Kwiatkowski’s pull and on the final day Thomas tried to bridge to the early breakaway on the Domancy climb but while others made it across he couldn’t. L’Equipe (€) quotes him saying he had a kilo to lose. He’s struggled with winters in the past, perhaps the long lay off was as challenging but here I thought he’d actually cope better with more summer time to train for the Tour. It’s surprising when two riders with five Tour de France’s don’t start but nobody is picked for their palmarès, it’s what they will do next that counts. As we saw in the Dauphiné, particularly on the Col de Porte, Egan Bernal needs all the help he can get.
- On a side note, one constant fascination is how Sky/Ineos have cultured an image of everything being planned, to the point of where even things going wrong can be seen as actually part of a secret scheme. To mention Froome and Thomas were in the gruppetto was to get responses in the comments, by email and on Twitter that it was probably part of a plan.
Ineos are by far the richest team in the sport and leaving out two Tour de France winners is made easy because of the substitutes available. In comes Giro winner Richard Carapaz, panic at Ineos is too strong a word but it plans have been hastily rewritten, all year he was going to target the Giro again. He was a surprise Giro winner in that few picked him before the race, but by the end he was convincing. He built his Giro win on an attack on Colle San Carlo before and the road Courmayeur. Earlier this year on a surprisingly mild day in February I rode these roads again and just kept thinking over and over what Carapaz did that day was underrated. It’ll be interesting to see what role he occupies in the team, whether he’s support for Bernal or an outright Plan-B because Ineos like to start a grand tour with two protected riders. The same question for Pavel Sivakov who has looked very strong, particularly last Sunday where he was up the road for much of the day and at times towing Julian Alaphilippe in their breakaway. He crashed but still caught a tiring Alaphilippe and then had the energy left to stick with the counter-move that came across and even to attack them.
What of other teams? Miguel Angel Lopez looks to be improving after being out of the picture in the Route d’Occitanie at the start of the month so team boss Alexander Vinokourov is probably more relaxed about Jacob Fuglsang and Aleksandr Vlasov riding the Giro, there’s less of a need to “do a Carapaz”. Adam Yates had a quiet Dauphiné but Simon Yates looks set on the Giro. Chez Trek-Segafredo Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema are going well and Vincenzo Nibali can plan for the Giro. For most other teams there’s no luxury of being able to sub-out superstars and bring in spare grand tour winners.