Vuelta a España: Ineos Grenadiers brings its might in search of grand tour podium sweep

Ineos Grenadiers could match Movistar and Jumbo-Visma as only teams to hit podiums in all three grand tours in one season since 1995.

Photo: James Startt

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Ineos Grenadiers won’t be winning all three grand tours in 2021 — Tadej Pogačar made sure of that at the Tour de France.

Cycling’s richest team, however, could still mark a franchise milestone of hitting the podium in all three grand tours in one season to join Movistar and Jumbo-Visma.

Since the Vuelta a España moved to September in 1995, Movistar and Jumbo-Visma are the only trade teams to hit the podium at cycling’s three-week grand tours in one season.

Ineos Grenadiers, and its previous iteration under Team Sky, has come close to hitting podiums in all three grand tours, but has never quite reached the unique marker.

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Movistar and Jumbo-Visma managed to do it in the past half-decade, reflecting a higher concentration of firepower within a few select teams at the top of the WorldTour.

In 2016, Alejandro Valverde was third in the Giro d’Italia, and Nairo Quintana was third in the Tour, and later won the Vuelta ahead of Chris Froome.

In 2019, Primož Roglič was third in the Giro and won the Vuelta, while Steven Kruijswijk paced to third in the Tour.

In 2021, Ineos Grenadiers roared into the season with hopes of winning all three grand tours in one season, something no team has achieved in modern cycling history.

Sky/Ineos chasing podium sweep

Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal
Team Ineos went two for three in the 2019 Tour. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

For the 2021 season’s final grand tour, Ineos Grenadiers brings a stacked squad to the Vuelta a España (August 14 to September 5) with every intention of winning.

Led by Giro winner Egan Bernal and freshly minted Olympic road champion Richard Carapaz, Ineos Grenadiers will be one of the hot favorites for overall victory.

Even if victory falls short, a podium spot in the Vuelta would give the team a top-3 finish in all three grand tours, just the third for a trade team since 1995.

Let’s look at the numbers.

So far in 2021, Bernal won the Giro and Carapaz was third in the Tour, behind Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma). Both will be favorites for the Vuelta’s red jersey and could be shoo-ins for a podium if both avoid crashes and other mishaps.

A win or a podium would put the team into a special class as only the third trade team to hit podiums in the Giro, Tour, and Vuelta in one season since 1995.

It’s a milestone that the team’s been coming close to hitting before.

Sky was close in 2013, with Rigoberto Urán riding to second at the Giro and Froome winning the first of his four yellow jerseys. Urán led the team at the Vuelta that season with 27th.

In 2017, Chris Froome won the Tour and Vuelta in the same season, but a podium sweep was off the table when Mikel Landa was 17th in the Giro that year.

In 2018, Froome won his third straight grand tour at the Giro, and Geraint Thomas won the yellow jersey, but a podium sweep fell short at the Vuelta when David de la Cruz was 15th at the Spanish grand tour.

Fewer teams dominating grand tours

Nairo Quintana helped Movistar sweep the grand tour podiums in 2016. Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Sport

Reaching the podium in all three grand tours is one of the more elusive milestones in modern cycling.

Since the Vuelta moved to September (now August) in 1995, a few teams have won two grand tours in one season, typically with one dominant rider.

The rise of “super teams” — well-funded teams backed by big financial backers — is now bringing a new dimension to racing by packing various potential winners into every grand tour roster.

Also read: Rise of the super teams and Tour domination

Back in 1998, Marco Pantani was the last rider to win the Giro and Tour in the same season, but his Mercatone Uno team did not race the Vuelta.

In 2006, CSC came close, with Ivan Basso winning the Giro and Carlos Sastre hitting third in the Tour. Sastre would later finish fourth in the Vuelta. Two years later, Sastre won the Tour and hit third in the Vuelta with CSC, but the team could only muster 14th in the overall with Gustav Erik Larsson in the Giro.

In 2008, Alberto Contador won the Giro and Vuelta in the same season, but his then-Astana team was not allowed to race that year’s Tour due to a ban over a doping case involving former rider Alexandre Vinokourov.

Astana was also close in 2014, with Fabio Aru hitting third in the Giro and Vincenzo Nibali winning the Tour, and Aru pacing to fifth in the Vuelta.

During much of the past decade, Movistar was often the most consistent in grand tour racing even if outright victories were not as common during the years dominated by the first of Team Sky.

After hitting the grand tour treble in 2016, it came close again in 2019, when Carapaz won the Giro, and Valverde was second in the Vuelta, and Mikel Landa hit sixth in that year’s Tour.

Movistar has since seen its fleet of leaders leave, with Quintana, Landa, and Carapaz all moving on. Valverde, now 41, no longer rides as a GC contender, and the team is rebuilding around Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López, who will both lead at the Vuelta.

Jumbo-Visma is the latest team to challenge Ineos Grenadiers’ grip in the grand tours, only to be eclipsed by the singular rise of Pogačar.

With UAE-Team Emirates now on a buying spree, picking up such riders as George Bennett, Marc Soler, and João Almeida, the team now packs more GC depth across the entire season.

For the 2021 Vuelta, Bernal and Carapaz will be leading Ineos Grenadiers, with Tom Pidcock making his highly anticipated grand tour debut.

With a deep bench for the Vuelta, Adam Yates, who’s been quiet after a hot spring, could be the team’s wildcard.

Ineos Grenadiers, if it can choose, wants the top spot in the Vuelta to complete the one-season grand tour podium sweep.

Ineos Grenadiers for 2021 Vuelta a España:

Egan Bernal — Vuelta debut
Richard Carapaz — 2nd in 2020
Jhonatan Narváez — Vuelta debut
Tom Pidcock — grand tour debut
Salvatore Puccio — seventh Vuelta
Pavel Sivakov — second Vuelta
Dylan van Baarle — third Vuelta
Adam Yates — fourth Vuelta


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