Ineos Grenadiers sends warning to rivals after Catalunya domination

Ineos Grenadiers off to flying start to 2021 as momentum builds toward season's grand tours.

Photo: Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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If the hiccup at the 2020 Tour de France might have given its rivals some hope, those are quickly evaporating following a podium sweep by Ineos Grenadiers at the Volta a Catalunya.

Cycling’s richest team was back to its domineering best over the weekend, winning Spain’s oldest stage race and sweeping the podium with three Ineos Grenadiers riders.

“We started off with big ambitions and we ended up 1-2-3 on GC,” said overall winner Adam Yates. “There’s not much more we can say really. It was the perfect team performance.”

Catalunya was a big welcome party for Yates, who joined Ineos Grenadiers in a high-profile transfer after racing his entire career at Team BikeExchange. After showing promise with fourth overall at the 2016 Tour, Yates seemed stuck.

The British twin has since come unstuck after moving to Ineos, and after finishing second to Tadej Pogačar at the UAE Tour, Yates rode well in the stage 2 time trial before attacking to a decisive stage victory the next day at Vallter 2000 to claim the overall lead.

After that, Ineos Grenadiers rolled out its 2021 version of the “Sky Train,” and bulldozed all the way to Barcelona to wrap up the overall Sunday.

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Richie Porte finished second overall in a confirmation of his return to the franchise following five years as a leader at BMC Racing and Trek-Segafredo, while 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas rounded out the podium.

Ineos Grenadiers also won the team classification en route to the first podium sweep by a team at Catalunya since 1960.

“It’s unbelievable really to have a 1-2-3. It’s an amazing feeling,” said Thomas, who notched his best GC result since second in the 2020 Tirreno-Adriatico. “The team here has just been incredible, as you’ve seen on the road. Morale is good and I’m enjoying racing with the boys.”

It seemed most teams and rivals were left powerless to even try to challenge Ineos’s stranglehold on the GC.

Movistar was the only team with firepower to try to dislodge and knock Ineos Grenadiers off-balance, but the UK-registered team raced with cool efficiency to dismantle any would-be disruption from Spain’s lone WorldTour team.

Movistar tried to blow things up Sunday in a hard-charging finale up and overall the Montjuic climb in Barcelona, but Ineos Grenadiers smothered the aggressiveness with numbers.

“We were the only team that tried something to change things,” said Alejandro Valverde, a three-time Volta winner who was fourth overall. “We made a good race, and the entire team fought all the way to the end. We tried to break up the race and isolate them.”

With nine victories so far, Ineos Grenadiers is off to its best start since 2018. The team’s also won Tour de Provence with Iván Sosa, and hits podiums at UAE Tour and Strade Bianche.

Despite the exit of Chris Froome — or perhaps because of it — the team is racing in a looser, more aggressive style.

So far in 2021, the team is bringing multiple options to each race, and once a rider takes control of the GC, the rest of the team rallies to apply a vice grip on the peloton.

Team boss Dave Brailsford, who has recently come under fire as part of a medical investigation involving former team doctor Richard Freeman, promised to race more aggressively coming into this season.

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The Catalunya podium sweep comes ahead of a big push into races such as Itzulia Basque Country and the Ardennes classics. Yates, Richard Carapaz and 2020 Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart will lead at Itzulia in Spain starting April 5.

Egan Bernal, who is also off to a solid start to his 2021 campaign, will race the Tour of the Alps before a run at the pink jersey at the Giro. Thomas, Geoghegan Hart, and Carapaz will all rally for the Tour.

“It’s unbelievable really to have a 1-2-3. It’s an amazing feeling,” Thomas said. “To be honest it was never really a goal at the start of the year to be going so well so early. But I’ve been working hard and each race I’ve felt better and better.”

Archrivals Pogačar and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) were missing from the Catalunya narrative, but the Slovenian pair will be lining up next week at Itzulia.

Though the terrain will be different than July, the ensuing battle across the Basque highlands should provide a telling preview of what lies in store later this summer in France.

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