Ineos Grenadiers: Down But Not Out

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Ineos Grenadiers is a team in wait mode. They are waiting for a rider who will help them return to the days when they bossed the peloton and won almost everything they wanted to win, which was not long ago.

Under its former names Team Sky and (in 2019) Team Ineos, they won seven of the eight Tours de France run from 2012 to 2019.  In that same time span, they won Paris-Nice and the Critérium du Dauphiné six times each and a total of 59 multi-stage races. It is no exaggeration to say that they have so far been the team of the 21st century. But things started to go south after Egan Bernal’s victory in the 2019 Tour – not disastrously, because many teams would envy the team’s recent record. But they simply no longer dominate the road.

One major reason is that Bernal had been tabbed to replace Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome as their next superstar, but the young Colombian suffered a series of injuries after his 2019 Tour yellow jersey that kept him from maintaining his high level. Real disaster struck in January 2022, when on a training ride with teammates in Colombia, Bernal rode into the back of a bus at high speed and suffered grave injuries. He managed to return to racing later in the year, but has continued to be plagued by injuries. Ineos did win the Giro d’Italia in 2020 (Tao Geoghegan Hart, in a huge surprise) and 2021 (Bernal), but the big prize, the Tour, has eluded them, and they have been replaced at the top of the heap by Jumbo-Visma.

Not that they don’t have a strong team. On the contrary. Geoghegan Hart recently won the Tour of the Alps and has an outside chance in this year’s Giro. The 23-year-old Tom Pidcock looks to have the stuff of becoming a superior one-day rider, after winning this year’s Strade Bianche and finishing on the podium in the Liège–Bastogne–Liège and Amstel Gold Race. Filippo Ganna is a two-time ITT world champion and is improving his road racing skills. And the 24-year-old Ethan Hajter can both climb and sprint; he showed his talent when he won the green jersey in the recent Tour de Romandie.

Filippo Ganna
Filippo Ganna at the 7th stage of the 2023 Giro. © Profimedia

Ineos is still cycling’s wealthiest team and as strategically sound as any on the road. They are always active in the peloton and are always working together to achieve the best possible result. They currently rank third in the PCS team rankings for the past 12 months, trailing only Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates. However, they have notched only 13 stage and race wins so far this year, just one more than Tadej Pogačar.

If anything, the team’s near future looks uncertain and its success will depend on how quickly Bernal can return to his best form or, failing that, if one of its other GC riders can develop the form to challenge Pogačar or last year’s Tour winner Jonas Vingegaard. At the beginning of 2023, the team’s sports director Steve Cummings told Cycling Weekly that three riders could lead their Tour de France GC challenge: Bernal, his fellow Colombian Dani Martínez and the 22-year-old Carlos Rodríguez.

“It’ll be Dani, potentially Egan, and Carlos [as the leaders] in the Tour,” Cummings said, but added: “The season’s long, lots of things can happen, [and] January’s too early to be so specific about it, but that’s our current plan.”

He was right. A lot has happened since then, all of it bad. Bernal crashed in the Volta a Catalunya and missed more racing and training time. His recent appearance in the Tour of Romandie showed that he still has a long way to go until he is fully fit again. Martínez had a mediocre Spring season, finishing 25th in the Paris-Nice and 34th in the Itzulia Basque Country, and without a single stage win. And Rodríguez crashed in the Strade Bianche in early March and has not raced since.

Though many races have already been run, it is still early in the road race season. The first Grand Tour of the year, the Giro, kicked off on May 6, and many things can still happen. But Ineos Grenadiers are going through a difficult period and have endured a run of bad luck. Based on the available evidence, unless Pidcock or Rodríguez are transformed into world beaters or Bernal suddenly becomes the rider everyone thought he would be, this year’s Tour is a lost cause and their season will consist primarily of exploiting their superior teamwork to win as many Grand Tour stages as they can and hopefully get their riders on the podium. And they will certainly be building for a future in which they will again be the envy of all the other teams on the road.