Where Does Team Ineos Go From Here?

Bernal's crash poses his Ineos team with a lot of tough questions about their strategy for the 2022 season. How should they respond?

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The world of professional cycling has had news and events coming thick and fast in recent days. The season has (kind of) started with some (training) races in Spain (please save yourself time and energy and do not read anything into these results) and Cyclocross Worlds heads across the pond to Fayetteville, Arkansas, this weekend. Cliff notes: Marianne Vos has a good chance of winning her 8th world title in the women’s races while the men’s field has been decimated by Covid positives and the absence of both Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, and Lars van der Haar, who went from promising up-and-comer to permanent also-ran due to the sudden rise of MvdP and van Aert, could finally win his first elite men’s world title. 

But, the event from the past week that will have the most impact on this coming season was the news that Egan Bernal suffered a season-ending crash while out training in Colombia. While I believe that current speculation on how Bernal may or may not potentially recover from his injuries is neither accurate nor fruitful since we all essentially know nothing about the nuances of the situation, the path in which his Ineos team chooses to move forward from the news will have significant implications for the 2022 season and can be speculated on quite accurately.

Ineos, unlike nearly every other professional team, tends to sit on their grand tour lineup decisions for as long as possible, sometimes only releasing their Tour de France lineup a week or two before the event, but it was fairly safe to assume that Egan Bernal was front and center in their plans for a victorious return to the Tour de France in 2022. The Colombian is part of an extremely select fraternity of riders with the physical tools to hang with the new generation of grand tour winners.

This means the team will have a few difficult questions before them as they set their lineups for the upcoming spring classics and the three grand tours.

Ineos’ Potential Grand Tour Leaders in 2022

There are a few major questions the team must face before deciding anything. First of all is if they even want to attempt to win the 2022 Tour de France, or if they simply punt the event and focus on winning the Giro, Vuelta and major one-day races, or if they tear up everything they have already planned and send the strongest possible team to the Tour at the expense of more certain victories at the lesser grand tours. 

While there has been a recent unofficial release of a tentative Giro d’Italia lineup that includes Richard Carapaz, Tom Pidcock, Richie Porte, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Elia Viviani, and Ben Swift, Bernal’s absence means the team will almost certainly have to shift these plans.

When we look at their historical success, they do have an impressive four grand tour winners, along with a few promising young prospects.

Historical GC Success Chart

But oddly, the sport’s richest team, with a budget close to $60 million per year, is shockingly light on tier-1 grand tour contenders when we re-frame the selection to include current form/availability heading into 2022. When we lay out their current depth chart, the uphill battle they will face in 2022 without Bernal quickly becomes clear.

2022 Grand Tour Depth Chart

Serious Viable Grand Tour Contender
Richard Carapaz

Some Past Success But Unlikely To Win
Tao Geoghegan Hart
Adam Yates

Has The Physical Talent But Lacks Any Past Success
Daniel Martinez
Pavel Sivakov

Has Past Success But Are Well Past Their Prime
Geraint Thomas
Richie Porte 

Unproven Hail Mary Options
Filippo Ganna
Tom Pidcock

What Is Ineos’ Best Grand Tour Strategy?

Carapaz, who finished third overall at the 2021 Tour de France, is now the team’s undisputed best grand tour GC option. This should lead the team to the obvious decision to change gears and allow Carapaz to have leadership of the team for the 2022 Tour de France. While 2021 showed us that he simply doesn’t have the time trial ability to hang with Tadej Pogačar in a head-to-head grand tour crash and that a repeat of the 2021 results is likely, he is the team’s only rider with the caliber to win a grand tour in 2022 and this would at least give the team a chance to capitalize on mistakes from Pogačar, Primož Roglič, and Jonas Vingegaard.

Grand Tour Strategy That Gives Best Chance of Tour Win

Richard Carapaz, center, racing Tadej Pogacar, right, and Jonas Vingegaard at the 2021 Tour de France. Image: Chris Auld.

Giro d’Italia
Leader: Adam Yates
Backup: Tao Geoghegan Hart

Tour de France
Leader: Richard Carapaz
Backup: Daniel Martinez
Get Yellow On Day 1: Filippo Ganna

Vuelta a Espana
Leader: Adam Yates
Backup: Richard Carapaz

Another school of thought regarding this decision is to essentially tank the Tour de France by sending Carapaz to the Giro d’Italia, which only features 26-kilometers of time trials along with the later-season Vuelta a Espana, which has 31-kilometers of individual time trialing (along with 23 team time trial kilometers). This decision would give Ineos the greatest chance of winning the greatest number of grand tours in 2022.

Grand Tour Strategy That Maximizes Wins

Giro d’Italia
Leader: Richard Carapaz
Backup: Daniel Martinez

Tour de France
Leader: Adam Yates
Backup: Tao Geoghegan Hart

Vuelta a Espana
Leader: Richard Carapaz
Backup: Adam Yates

And yet another school of thought is to realize that without Bernal, they don’t have a realistic chance of toppling the best GC riders in the world and simply doubling down on lathering the British media up into a publicity frenzy by ‘playing the hits.’

Grand Tour Strategy That Maximizes Publicity

Giro d’Italia
Leader: Richard Carapaz
Backup: Adam Yates

Tour de France
Leader: Geraint Thomas
Backup #1: Tao Geoghegan Hart
Backup #2: Richie Porte

Vuelta a Espana
Leader: Richard Carapaz
Backup: Richie Porte

However, team owner Jim Ratcliffe almost certainly didn’t buy the team to win secondary grand tours. Ratcliffe invests obscene amounts of money into sport every season with the single goal of winning (even though every sports franchise he has purchased has seen a performance dip since he took ownership). For Britain’s richest person, the Tour de France represents the sport’s only befitting prize.

Shift Focus To the One-Day Classics

Ineos might be the sport’s most successful team at the Tour de France over the past decade, but their track record in the sport’s one-day races, particularly the cobbled classics, is far from perfect and has fallen off a cliff since the 2017 season.

Ineos ‘Classics’ Historical Results

And if we narrow in on just the sport’s five monuments, their lack of success is notable. Despite having the biggest payroll in the sport for over a decade, they have only walked away with a total of two monument wins. 

Ineos Historical Monument Results 

But, the 2022 season presents an opportunity to drastically change this narrative. While they might not currently have the world’s best grand tour GC riders on their roster, they do have a surprising amount of elite one-day talent for a team that is almost solely dedicated to winning the Tour de France.

Outside of superstar young talent Tom Pidcock and up-and-comer Ethan Hayter, the team has Dylan van Baarle, who finished an impressive second place at the 2021 world road race championships and won the cobbled semi-classic Dwars door Vlaanderen earlier in the year. 

In his maiden road season in 2021, Pidcock thrived in Spring one-day races that suited his open and high-octane style of racing. He won Brabantse Pijl, finished second at Amstel Gold, third at Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne and fifth at Strade-Bianche. He might have struggled in the major cobbled classics, likely due to his lack of experience and extremely lightweight frame (at a listed 127lbs, he would become one of the lightest winners of Flanders and/or Paris-Roubaix), but if Ineos can guide Pidock to simply focus on the Italian and Ardennes one-days in 2022, they could feasibly double the team’s total number of Monument wins (currently at 2).

Can Tom Pidcock take the next step in his young career this season? Image: Chris Auld

And this isn’t even taking into account Richard Carapaz, who won arguably the biggest non-cobbled one-day race of 2021 by taking Gold at the Olympic Road Race, and would be a perfect candidate to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2022.

With this combination of an extremely strong collection of one-day talent and a lack of true top tier GC talent, in my opinion, Ineos would be smart to race to the strengths of their roster and call an audible by going all-in on the sport’s biggest one-day races and taking that same aggressive racing style to the three grand tours in an attempt to sow as much chaos as possible. 

This style, which is the antithesis of their uber-controlled tactics that they’ve practiced for a decade (and which essentially handed Pogačar the 2021 Tour on a platter), won’t guarantee results but will maximize their chances of success against the more talented competition. It just remains to be seen if the capital and management at Ineos can divorce themselves from the idea that they should enter the sport’s biggest race as the sport’s strongest team, and instead face facts and race with the aim of creating chaos, which at this point, is their only real chance of getting back into their Tour de France winning ways.

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