INEOS Grenadiers Counting on Young Riders to Climb Back to the Top

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

It has been a mediocre start to the 2024 season for the once mighty INEOS Grenadiers, who under the name Team Sky were the unchallenged lords of road racing from 2012 to 2019. In that eight-year span, they won the Tour de France seven times and Paris-Nice six times. Between 2011 and 2021, the team won the Critérium du Dauphiné seven times and won 12 Grand Tours.

But since a horrific training crash severely injured their last Tour de France winner, Egan Bernal, INEOS has been in decline. Last year, it registered a mere 11 wins, but only Tom Pidcock’s Strade Bianche victory and Filippo Ganna’s win in stage 10 of the Vuelta were of any significance. Arguably, the team’s best performance of 2023 was Geraint Thomas’s second place in the Giro d’Italia, in which he lost the leader’s pink jersey to Primož Roglič (then Jumbo-Visma, now BORA-hansgrohe) in the race’s penultimate stage and finished second in the GC, 14 seconds behind the Slovenian.

Based on their results so far this year, it looks as if it will be another disappointing season for the former high-flyers. But the news is not all bad. Some 16 months after his training crash, Bernal looks to be finally recovering his form. He finished a fine third in the recent Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, trailing only Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Mikel Landa (Soudal–Quick Step) in the GC. Though the gap to Pogačar was more than five minutes, the 27-year-old Colombian improved from stage to stage and looked strong on the final-stage climbs.

INEOS’s other Grand Tour hope, Tom Pidcock, has had a so-so spring, with a fourth place in the Strade Bianche, ninth in Tirreno-Adriatico and 11th in the Milan–San Remo. With the kind of competition he will face in the Tour de France, Pidcock will have to find a lot of form if he wants to finish in the top five.

Tom Pidcock
Tom Pidcock, has had a so-so spring. © Profimedia

But INEOS is principally looking beyond this year and playing a long game. The team recruited no established stars over the winter, opting instead to pick up young talent, such as the 18-year-old American Andrew (A.J.) August. August gave up a chance to join Axel Merckx’s renowned development team for an immediate crack at the World Tour. And he could become a star. A trainer in the American  Hot Tubes development team tested the young prodigy and said, “He is Remco, but probably with more power.” And he has already had some success, such as winning the Junior Tour of Ireland in 2022 at the age of 16. He also won a stage and finished on the podium at the Redlands Bicycle Classic this year.

INEOS also picked up the 18-year-old Dane Theodore Storm, who finished third in the Juniors Paris-Roubaix last year and helped fellow Dane Albert Philipsen win the 2023 UCI Junior World Road Race Championship in Glasgow, while finishing fifth in the race himself. Another Dane, 26-year-old Tobias Foss also joined the INEOS stable this year, and brought with him some impressive credentials. Foss won the 2022 UCI World Time Trial Championship, beating such monsters of the discipline as Stefan Küng (FDJ-Groupama) and current ITT world champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick Step). He also won the 2019 Tour de l’Avenir.

They join another brilliant young rider on the team, 20-year-old Joshua Tarling, who won the 2023 Chrono des Nations, ahead of Evenepoel, and the 2023 European ITT Championship, beating Wout van Aert by 43 seconds. He also finished third to Evenepoel in last year’s ITT world championship.

With its best GC rider, Geraint Thomas, turning 38 in May, Pidcock still working to find winning form and Bernal still not quite the rider he once was, these young cyclists represent an enormous gamble for INEOS Grenadiers. That is why the team has made them a top priority and hired a new performance pathways manager, Simon Watts, to oversee their development. It will be interesting to watch their progress this year, for it will provide a clue to the fortunes of a team that was once the king of the roads.