It certainly surprised the one remaining bona fide Grand Tour GC contender left on the team, Geraint Thomas. Thomas and Ellingworth began working together in 2010 when the team was known as Team Sky and they were part of its golden era during which Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins, Egan Bernal and Thomas (in 2018) won seven Tour de France yellow jerseys. Ellingworth left the team after the 2019 season, returning in 2021. But he could not revive its sagging fortunes. Since that 2019 Tour triumph, INEOS Grenadiers have won two Giro d’Italias and Thomas has finished on the podium at both the Tour de France (2022) and the Giro (2023). But that is apparently not enough, and INEOS have yet to find a rider to compete with the likes of Tadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič. So their next Tour victory looks a long way off.
“It was gutting, really, to see Rod step down,” Thomas said on his podcast. “I feel like he was good and great for the team. But things change and people move on. It was quite surprising as well.” Thomas, who turns 38 next May, added: “It’s all change in the team now, I guess.” That is certainly true because, in addition to Ellingworth, sports directors Roger Hammond and Matteo Tosatto and head of performance support Ben Williams have also left.
This leaves the once-dominant team with a huge hole to fill, not only related to its staff but to the riders as well. And they have been strangely inactive on the transfer market, adding only two new riders to their roster, the 28-year-old Spaniard Óscar Rodriguez and the promising 18-year-old American AJ August. August looks to be a fine time trial rider with definite GC potential but he is at least five years away from even thinking about challenging Vingegaard and Co. for a Grand Tour title.
So, where does that leave the once-mighty INEOS Grenadiers? With a lot of potential, according to Thomas. “The main thing is, we’ve got a really young team now,” he told Rouleur. “They just need a bit of time to develop and get better. Obviously, we also have myself and a few older guys but it’s not just one quick fix. The team has definitely had a transition with everything that’s gone on with the staff more than anything. It’s heading in the right direction but it’s hard to turn it around overnight.”
The question is if the team’s leadership has the patience for the young riders to develop and if they will be on a comparable level with the aforementioned stars of the sport. If they don’t have the patience or the confidence in the young riders, a quick fix is available. Rumours were floated for months that INEOS Grenadiers are negotiating to sign Remco Evenepoel. Those rumours have gone silent, which means absolutely nothing. However, the team’s inactivity on the transfer market could mean that (1) they have the patience and the confidence in their young riders to wait for them to blossom into stars, (2) they are waiting to hire senior staff to oversee the transfer activity, or (3) they are saving up to sign Evenepoel.