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The questions facing Ineos Grenadiers’ eight grand tour contenders in 2021

Ineos Grenadiers has enough GC contenders to fill a whole grand tour team, but each of them has a unique set of personal challenges to face in 2021. Here are the questions facing the Ineos eight.

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Ineos Grenadiers went on a bona fide shopping spree at the close of the 2020 season, bolstering an already impressive team roster with a wealth of GC contenders.

Adam Yates, Daniel Martínez and Richie Porte will all race in the Ineos colors in 2021, and there’s rumor that Astana’s Aleksandr Vlasov may break contract early and join the superteam next year. That’s a lot of cooks in the Ineos kitchen, even after Chris Froome’s exit to join Israel Start-Up Nation.

However, it’s not going to be smooth sailing for the intimidating Ineos squad in 2021. Not only does the team have to resume battle with archrivals Jumbo-Visma, but each of its GC stars carries a unique set of personal challenges that will spin through the 2021 season.

Here are the questions, challenges, and narratives facing David Brailsford’s grand tour armada.

Thomas is the last of the old guard, and with an injury to shake. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Geraint Thomas, 34

Grand tour palmarès: 2018 Tour de France – 1st, 2019 Tour de France – 2nd

Geraint Thomas was looking good and getting better until a stray water bottle ended his Giro d’Italia far earlier than he planned for, forcing him out of the race with a broken pelvis. How well will the Welsh veteran recover?

With Ian Stannard retiring last week, Thomas is the last man standing of the original 2010 Team Sky squad (except Ben Swift, who left for two seasons before returning) as the team enters a new Latin-tinted phase 2.0 of its evolution. The 34-year-old has one year left on his contract and time is not on his side as he enters the twilight of his career.

If Thomas doesn’t return to his best, 2021 may be the last opportunity he has to give the old-school Sky fans something to cheer about. Can he make it count?

What Thomas said: “I’d put so much work into this race,” said Thomas when he confirmed his abandonment of the Giro. “I did everything I could and feel like I was in just as good – if not better – shape than when I won the Tour. I was feeling really good. So for it just to end like this is gutting.”

Has Carapaz moved to the front of the pack after his Vuelta success? Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Richard Carapaz, 27

Grand tour palmarès: 2019 Giro d’Italia – 1st, 2020 Vuelta a España – 2nd place, 2018 Giro d’Italia – 4th place

Although Richard Carapaz didn’t win the 2020 Vuelta a España, he marked himself as a new leader of the pack of Ineos’ armada. Faced with an unstoppable Primož Roglič and the Jumbo-Visma team, the Ecuadorian rode a solid and savvy ride in Spain despite the odds being stacked against him.

Carapaz has proven that his Giro title in 2019 was no fluke, and his attacking ride through this year’s Tour de France gave team boss Dave Brailsford something to cheer about after Egan Bernal flamed out. He’s got the results, he’s got the momentum, and he’s likely got the backing of Brailsford and Co. Now all Carapaz has to do is deliver.

What Carapaz said: “It was a spectacular season,” Carapaz told Ecuadorian media last week. “It feels like I’ve been in the team for five years. I don’t know if it seems that way from the outside but I already feel like a veteran there. We’ve already had a lot of success in a short space of time, so imagine what we can achieve in three or five years.

“Now we know we’re capable of dreaming of the [Tour de France] title. I’m convinced of that and that’s the new target we’ve set in the near future.”

After a lost 2020 season and with an ongoing injury, Bernal has a lot to lose. Photo: Marco Bertorello – Pool/Getty Images

Egan Bernal, 23

Grand tour palmarès: 2019 Tour de France – 1st

Egan Bernal went into the 2020 Tour de France standing at the very top of the Ineos hierarchy as he led a youthful, experimental team into the three weeks in France. The young Colombian came out of the race four stages early, nursing a back problem that had developed into knee pains. Two months later, Bernal is still on the comeback trail and has suggested he won’t be 100 percent for some months yet.

Can Bernal return to form in 2021? While he has the reassurance of a contract with Ineos through 2023, he risks being left behind by a new wave of talent with more recent results and the wind at their sails.

What Bernal said: “It’s a long process and it will take not one or two months, but a long time,” the Colombia told ESPN last month about his injury. “It’s going to take a reasonable amount of time for me to be pain-free. I’m staying motivated for next year – setting new goals and objectives. I have a whole career ahead, so I can’t keep thinking about the Tour de France that I lost, like last year I couldn’t keep thinking about the Tour I won.”

Is Brailsford going to go all-in with his new British champion? Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Tao Geoghegan Hart, 25

Grand tour palmarès: 2020 Giro d’Italia – 1st

Tao Geoghegan Hart had long been touted as a future British star. The young Londoner was thrust into the limelight as if by accident with his victory at this year’s Giro d’Italia after Thomas crashed out and his key rivals retired due to COVID-19.

Geoghegan Hart spearheaded an Ineos Giro campaign that saw them racing off the front rather than strangling their contenders with a mountain train – a new approach that Brailsford branded the future of the squad.

But was the Brit’s win and his team’s offensive, aggressive racing style a lucky consequence of a whacky race, or the sign of things to come? 2021 will be Geoghegan Hart’s big opportunity to stamp himself into the Ineos hierarchy and prove the Giro was not a one-off.

What Geoghegan Hart said: “I don’t know, and I don’t really care,” he said after his Giro victory when asked about his position in the team. “I’m going to enjoy this. It’s incredible. I’m going to stay the same person, I’m going to stay professional and dedicated, as I believe I always have been.”

Will Yates gets the chances he hopes for in a bumper Ineos lineup? Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Adam Yates, 28

Grand tour palmarès: 2016 Tour de France – 4th

Adam Yates surprised us all with a four-day spell in the yellow jersey at this year’s Tour de France. The 28-year-old surprised us even more a few weeks later when he confirmed he would be leaving Mitchelton-Scott to join Ineos Grenadiers.

Has Yates made the right call? Having stood atop of the tree alongside his brother at the Aussie squad, Yates has landed himself into a team with more GC talents than the rest of the peloton put together. Although the Brit rode a strong ride into ninth overall at the Tour, it’s been a long while since he won the white jersey and took a career-best fourth overall at the 2016 Tour.

Has Yates gone from big fish in a small pond to a tiddler in the ocean?

What Yates said: “My results in week-long races and one-day races have been really solid but I would like to take that consistency to grand your racing with the Ineos Grenadiers and see where it takes me.”

He’s got the potential, but can Martínez string it together over three weeks? Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Daniel Martínez, 24

Grand tour palmarès: 2020 Tour de France – 28th

Like Yates, Daniel Martínez moves from sitting pretty at the top of one team to being thrown in the unknown with his transfer to Ineos from EF Pro Cycling. The Colombian rode high to take victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné this summer, backing up a strong second place at Tour Colombia this winter. However, the 24-year-old has never strung it together over three weeks, with his 2020 Tour blighted by early crashes and his recent Vuelta coming to a close after abandoning due to an early tumble.

Martínez should slot in well in the South American-style Ineos 2.0, and should Brailsford continue to adopt the attacking style he used to light up the Giro and Vuelta, the aggressive Colombian can bring a lot to the party. He has time on his side to move up the Ineos GC ladder, but can he string together a successful three weeks?

What Martínez said:  “I have been making progress over the last few seasons and have been really lucky with the support I have had, but the opportunity to ride for the Ineos Grenadiers was too good an opportunity to not take. I believe this is the right time to try and take my career to the next level and I am hugely motivated to learn from the best in the world.”

Crashes blew Sivakov’s chances at a Tour de France wide open for him.

Pavel Sivakov, 23

Grand tour palmarès: 2019 Giro d’Italia – 9th

Pavel Sivakov enjoyed a breakout 2019 season, taking GC at Tour of the Alps and riding into the top-10 at the Giro. The young Franco-Russian looked to be keeping the ball rolling in 2020 with a series of strong rides in the August racing restart until it all came to an end with a heavy crash in the crash-riddled opening stage of the Tour. Nonetheless, the youngster showed the grit to bounce back with a series of attacking rides at the close of the race as he, Carapaz, and Michał Kwiatkowski gave his team something to cheer about after Bernal’s abandon.

Sivakov has the legs and is well-established within the team having ridden with Ineos since 2018. Now he’s going to have to prove his potential in a roster that is more packed than ever – where will he get his opportunities?

What Sivakov said: “I was really at a high level on the Dauphiné and I really wanted to be present on the Tour,” he said mid-way through the Tour when reflecting on his disaster start. “It’s hard mentally, but it makes the good moments better … Now, I feel that I am coming back to normal. A lot of things come back and I am confident for the near future.”

Porte is returning to his former home to play domestique – but is in the form of his life. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Richie Porte, 35

Grand tour palmarès: 2020 Tour de France – 3rd, 2016 Tour de France – 5th

Tasmanian veteran Richie Porte returns to the squad after a four-year spell with Team Sky from 2012-2015, during which time he worked tirelessly for Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Six years later, he’s back, and looking to do it all again, ditching his desire to lead teams as he did with BMC Racing and Trek-Segafredo, instead happy to play super-domestique.

But will Richie adapt to life in the engine room after five years of playing numero uno? After a career-best ride at the Tour this summer, is the 35-year-old discovering a run of late-career form he may wish to capitalize on by riding for himself?

What Porte said: “I’m motivated to be a part of more victories and to come back and race with some of the best guys in the world. I know what my role is – I know I can still win races on my day, but I see myself slotting in as a climbing domestique and it’s something I really look forward to.”

Aleksandr Vlasov, 24

Grand tour palmarès: 2020 Vuelta a España – 11th

Nothing has been confirmed yet, but reports suggest Russian prodigy Aleksandr Vlasov and his agent are looking to break the contract with Astana one year early to move over to Ineos. Where will he fit in such a stellar squad?

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