Ineos Grenadiers: New Style, Same Success
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
After Tao Geoghegan Hart's Giro d'Italia success last season, Ineos Grenadiers must have basked in the plaudits that his racing deserved. Geoghegan Hart and Rohan Dennis lit up the third week of the Giro and their attacking race took the Giro by storm.
It was not only Geoghegan Hart who impressed throughout the Giro, Ineos amassed a team-record 7 stage victories in Italy, with Filippo Ganna and Jhonatan Narváez joining the act. Whilst both of Geoghegan Hart's victories were run-of-the-mill, albeit excellent, mountaintop stage wins and Ganna's two time trial victories were expected, Narváez's stage 12 success and Ganna's stage 5 surprise win were both blockbuster to watch from home. They both came from the breakaway and were examples of Ineos allowing their riders greater freedom to race in the absence of Geraint Thomas, following his early abandonment. Another shining beacon from their time in Italy was Ben Swift, who got himself into plenty of breakaways and went close to winning stage 10, where Peter Sagan tasted his first and only success of 2020. They were an exciting team to watch in Italy and seemed a group reborn following Egan Bernal's failure at the Tour de France.
The Colombian's abject defence of his Tour title, in the face of injury, allowed Ineos a fresh start, much alike to 2014 after the abandonment of Chris Froome. Whilst in 2014, they were unable to leave their mark on the Tour and looked a team completely set up for riding GC, without an obvious leader, last year saw them successfully change tact and provide exciting racing in the final week. Stage 18 brought Michał Kwiatkowski his first Tour de France stage victory, with he and teammate Richard Carapaz rolling into the finish together after Marc Hirschi's crash. Carapaz was rewarded with free reign in the final week as he went all out to try and win the King of the Mountains jersey, falling unluckily short due to Tadej Pogačar's supreme stage victory on Le Planche des Belles Filles. The Ecuadorian Giro 2019 champion would take this form into the Vuelta a España, where he was frequently on the offensive and ultimately finished 2nd to Primoz Roglic.
The way that Ineos Grenadiers raced the Grand Tours after Egan Bernal's withdrawal from the Tour earned the British team many plaudits, with the team no doubt receiving a whole host of marketing data that showed the positive acclaim they garnered. Whether by design or by accident, one suspects the latter in the Giro, they had stumbled onto a bold and exciting style of racing that was incredibly dissimilar to their domestique-train that had graced the Grand Tours for years in the search of GC success, of which they frequently claimed. In the face of years upon years of negativity bombarded at the team on the continent, it must have felt like a breath of fresh air to achieve acclaim rather than being treated with disdain. In the face of this, Dave Brailsford promised to take this new style of racing into 2021. They would offer more freedom to riders, they would attack races rather than simply defending their leader, they would put on a show and have multiple options of attack. It promised to be rejuvenating for both the fans and the riders. Now whilst we are still very early into the new season, it is worth us judging whether or not this promise is being delivered upon. Perhaps alongside Jumbo Visma's transition to a GC outfit very much akin to Team Sky of old, this supposed new style for Ineos would mark the greatest change to the way a team has raced in the peloton since their inception in 2010. At Étoile de Bessèges and the Tour de la Provence, we have seen signs of this promise being delivered upon. Ineos Grenadiers have ridden with renewed gusto, less control and more offensive racing. At the same time, they have so far achieved success at a similar rate to Team Ineos of old, perhaps even greater success away from the Grand Tours.
Filippo Ganna demolished his breakaway compatriots at Étoile de Bessèges. © Getty Images
Coming into Étoile de Bessèges, one would be forgiven for expecting to see Ineos Grenadiers racing alike to their supposed 'old style, keeping Filippo Ganna in the main pack until the final day time trial, where he would be the overwhelming favourite to win and take the stage race victory. This is how Team Sky used to race to good effect with Bradley Wiggins, especially throughout his 2012 season where he won every single time trial he raced (bar the Tour de France prologue which was taken by Fabian Cancellara), en route to tasting success at Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, Critérium du Dauphiné and of course, the Tour de France.
As expected, Filippo Ganna won the stage 5 time trial at Étoile de Bessèges, but this did not deliver him GC success and teammate Michał Kwiatkowski was the highest placed Grenadier, taking third place overall. This is because Ganna lost 3'13" on stage 13 as a 17-man breakaway went clear. In the past, Ineos would have been expected to mark this move and bring it under control as to avoid Tim Wellens taking the race lead in such commanding fashion, but instead they sent Kwiatkowski in the winning move that was fashioned by a remarkably aggressive Egan Bernal. Although Kwiatkowski was not successful on stage 3, the time lost by Ganna allowed him to place into stage 4's breakaway. It was from this breakaway that Ganna soloed to an astonishing stage victory with the peloton only 17 seconds in arrears. Taking off from the breakaway with 8km to go, as the peloton were about to make the catch, the Italian track-star was able to not only drop his breakaway compatriots, such as Alberto Bettiol (2019 Ronde van Vlaanderen champion), but astonishingly hold off the peloton determined to see the stage finish in a bunch sprint. Ganna produced an enormous display of strength, with his power averages going viral on cycling Twitter following the stage.
Following the race, Ineos Grenadiers DS Servais Knaven stated that their attacking racing cost them the general classification, but served as evidence of the success that their new style can bring. Although Ineos failed to take the GC, it allowed them to race with far more aggression than in the past, with Kwiatkowski entering stage 3's breakaway, with the Pole claiming a surprise podium finish as a result, and Ganna romping to victory on stage 4. Add into the equation the terrific display put in by Bernal to set up stage 3's breakaway, and Ineos' week was a resounding success. Filippo Ganna rounded off their race with by taking the final day's time trial, with Tim Wellens winning the overall title. It was an initial showing of the Grenadiers' new style, including a display from Bernal that hinted at a return to form following the back injury that ruled him out of last year's Tour. Bernal and his team took this fresh approach to racing into Tour de la Provence, delivering them deserved success.
Iván Sosa storms to victory at Chalet Reynard. © Agence Zoom
The first two days of Tour de la Provence belonged to Deceuninck-Quick Step, with Davide Ballerini winning both stages and taking the unique race leader's jersey into yesterday's stage that finished on Mont Ventoux. It was on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, with the stage finish coming at Chalet Reynard, 6km from the summit, that Ineos Grenadiers presented more evidence of their new style being here to stay.
On the face of it, Ineos' victory at Chalet Reynard and subsequently on the overall today, was just a continuation of their dominant riding since 2012, however look closer and you will see new freedom and tactics coming to the fore. In the past, we have often seen Ineos have one leader who heads up their team and has the rest of the guys working for them. This was mostly the case in stage races and any Grand Tour featuring Chris Froome. The odd couple of exceptions were present with the 2018 and 2019 Tours de France, with Froome/Thomas playing off each other in 2018 and Bernal/Thomas playing off each other in 2019. However, we rarely saw them race in an attacking tandem and it was mostly the case that they raced as a train on the front of the peloton and 'let the road decide' which leader was stronger. On stage 3 yesterday, with the group whittled down with 4.8km to go, it was a surprise attack by Iván Sosa that proved decisive. He took flight in a violent attack that saw him stomping on his pedals and was never to be caught as he soloed to stage victory, taking the leader's jersey which he secured on today's stage that ended in a bunch sprint. It was a coming of age ride by Sosa and a brave move for the young rider to attack so far from the finish. The attack was a shining example of the one-two punch offered by Ineos, as Egan Bernal sat in the wheels behind, clearer comfortable but playing the clever teammate in order to allow Sosa to take the honours. After Sosa had been out on his own for 1.4km, Julian Alaphillipe attacked and took only Bernal with him. It was the defiant Wout Poels who joined the pair at 2.2km from home, upon which Bernal took one hand off the bars and talked on his radio for at least 20 seconds. It was incredible to see how at ease the Colombian was, whilst allowing his less experienced teammate to maintain his lead out front. It was not until the final bend at Chalet Reynard that Bernal mounted a decisive attack on Alaphillipe that dropped the World Champion and allowed the 2019 Tour de France champion to finish second behind Sosa.
The Sosa-Bernal connection is nothing new and has been detailed to great length in Matt Rendell's latest book, 'Colombia Es Pasión'. This pair showed their attacking nous and strength on stage 3, with their offensive riding proving too much for even the World Champion. At the 2016 Tour de l'Avenir, Egan Bernal finished 4th overall, aided by his Colombian teammate Sosa. The partnership only grew with Sosa joining Bernal at Androni Giocattoli for the 2017 season, allowing Bernal to take full honours at that year's Tour de l'Avenir. The one-two stage result from Ventoux was a reversal of the 2019 Gran Piemonte, where the then-Ineos compatriots worked in tandem to secure Bernal the one-day victory and placed Sosa into 2nd behind him. Mont Ventoux announced Sosa to the world stage with his biggest career victory to date, but if history is anything to go by, it is not the last time we will see Bernal and Sosa create a Colombian pairing to fear. After he sailed the overall title on stage 4, Sosa laid out his plans for the season, which will have fans of this Colombian pair licking their lips.
"This year I'd like to race the Giro d'Italia with Egan, so that's what I'm working towards".
Iván Sosa confirms his ambition to race in Italy
Carlos Rodriguez leads the peloton through an eery but breathtaking Forêt Communale de Bédoin. © Agence Zoom
The 2020 Giro d'Italia was exciting for fans of Ineos Grenadiers in part due to the emergence of Tao Geoghegan Hart. All their previous Grand Tour successes had come from established GC riders, with Wiggins already achieving a podium at the Tour in 2009 before his 2012 success, Froome the same with his 2012 podium, and Thomas acting as a remarkable domestique for years before his 2018 victory. In contrast, 2020 saw the rise of Ineos' young stars, with Ganna, Carapaz and Narváez impressing, whilst Geoghegan Hart smashed the glass ceiling and took his maiden Grand Tour victory. It hinted at a future Grenadier outfit where the young stars broke through and became the dynamic leaders of the team, based on stage situation. Yesterday's stage upon Ventoux not only highlighted their new style with the Sosa/Bernal partnership, but it also brought to the attention a new young star on the blocks for Ineos.
At 7.6km to go until Chalet Reynard, a young Grenadier named Carlos Rodriguez came to the front of the peloton and set to work. 2.8km later, he had announced himself on the world stage and showed himself as a potential Grenadier star for the future. The former Spanish Junior Time Trial Champion put in a blistering performance on one of cycling's most revered climbs, giving us a first glimpse at his talent on the hills. At 20 years of age, Rodriguez is only one year into a four-year deal with Ineos Grenadiers, having been a Neo-pro on the team last season. His ride on the front yesterday decimated the peloton, reducing it from a 30+ man group, to a group containing only around 11 riders. Along the way he not only dropped stage favourites such as Warren Barguil and Alexey Lutsenko, but also his experienced teammate Laurens De Plus. De Plus had been siting second-wheel to Rodriguez, ready to take over the pace-setting duties once the Spaniard had given as good as he'd got, however that never came to pass. After a monstrous one kilometre on the front, Rodriguez rode De Plus off his wheel, at which point the Belgian dropped to the back of the group and was not to be seen again. He had not even survived to deliver his turn. Rodriguez's work continued until the 4.8km mark, at which point he flicked the elbow and Sosa launched his stage-winning attack. Carlos Rodriguez had announced himself to the cycling world.
The success of Étoile de Bessèges and Tour de la Provence were brought to Ineos Grenadiers through their new style of racing. They were aggressive, filled with style and offered multiple choices of attack. Kwiatkowski, Bernal, Ganna, Sosa and Rodriguez all put on tremendous displays in these races, showing that Ineos have multiple options to draw from when deciding who to attack the stage victory with. Ganna's breakaway win at Étoile de Bessèges was the ride filled with the most panache, as he sailed away from the helpless peloton, but one suspects the team will have been more pleased with yesterday's complete team performance upon Ventoux. The attacking partnership of Iván Sosa and Egan Bernal was renewed to great effect, with Sosa taking the overall victory today. Whilst prior to Sosa's attack, a new star was born as Carlos Rodriguez shattered the peloton and laid the foundation for the Ineos one-two at Chalet Reynard. Offence, not defence, was on the menu at these two stage races and show that even with a new style, the Grenadiers can still achieve the same success. Only time will tell whether or not this style will prove viable in the biggest races on the calendar, but Dave Brailsford's men have already shown themselves willing to change. Let us hope that it is here to stay, as it provides exciting racing and a change from the dominant train that has graced the peloton for almost a decade.