Tour de France has been a car accident for Ineos … Sir Dave Brailsford and his all-conquering team hit the wall this year
- The British team has produced the winner in seven of the last eight Tours
- Brailsford is known for its preparations, but it didn’t work out this time
- Who would have predicted such a disappointing defense of their crown?
Some 140 exhausted souls come to a halt in Paris on Sunday. Before the first bottles are empty, the remaining Ineos Grenadiers riders may be able to clock their fastest speed of the past month to get out again.
It’s been a tough old journey for the British team that took the winner in seven of the eight previous Tour de France editions.
That they hit the wall this year was not unexpected in their circumstances. But who would have predicted such a disappointing defense of their position as the dominant force?
Sir Dave Brailsford (right) is known for his preparations, but it didn’t work out this time
What has been achieved by Primoz Roglic, the Jumbo-Visma rider from Slovenia who is likely to be crowned champion on Sunday if he remains in Saturday’s time trial, should not be diluted. He is in second place with 57 seconds, fellow countryman Tadej Pogacar.
But Ineos, Sir Dave Brailsford’s all-conquering band, certainly could have done more. Aside from the plaster of Michal Kwiatkowski’s stage victory on Thursday, their Tour will be marked by Tuesday’s withdrawal of Egan Bernal, the defending champion. He arrived with a back injury and stopped for the 17th stage, saying he felt “ messed up on all sides. ”
But how did it come to this?
Much can be traced to the 37 mph training accident that Chris Froome suffered in June 2019. It was the traumatic, neck-breaking moment that ended his time as a key player on the team and started a chain of difficulties for Brailsford.
Ineos Grenadiers rider Egan Bernal ended his Tour defense with a withdrawal for stage 17
Brailsford’s decision not to pick him out for the Tour shortly after Froome confirmed he would be racing for Israel Start-Up Nation next year came as no big surprise. His performance at the Criterium du Dauphine last month proved that he had not recovered enough to be competitive.
More controversial was the non-selection of Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion. He suffered in the mountains in the Dauphine, but in light of the extent to which Ineos underperformed in France – Kwiatkowski and Richard Carapaz aside – the debate is raging over the wisdom of that slaughter. Thomas’ second place on the Tirreno-Adriatico this week fueled the doubters.
Brailsford is famous for his preparations, but there is a line of thought that his team misjudged their run to this Tour. After the lockdown massacre in March, they were back to training in mid-April. Jumbo-Visma was only resumed on 1 June.
Some of the athletic problems are rooted in the human tragedy of the loss of their sports director, Nico Portal, to a heart attack in March, at the age of just 40. Portal was arguably the best in the world.
Ineos’ tactics during the Tour were then shared by a group of Gabriel Rasch, Servais Knaven and Xabier Zandio.
Sean Yates, sportif director under the previous Team Sky brand until 2012, has criticized the set-up. After the 13th stage, when Bernal lost 38 seconds to Roglic, he said, “Once a stage is underway, you don’t have time to have a video conference to decide on tactics.”
Soren Kragh Andersen took his second stage victory of the Tour de France on Friday in stage 19
Walking injured Bernal injured his back at the Dauphine and clearly fell short in the Tour. A strong ride in the ninth stage put him in sight of Roglic, but he was buried by the 15th. When he stopped after the 16th stage, he was 19 minutes behind in 16th place. Their best finisher is now Carapaz, who was 13th in the general classification after Friday’s 19th stage, which was won by Sunweb’s Dane Soren Kragh Andersen.
The rise of Jumbo-Visma was predictable. They often looked stronger than Ineos in last year’s Tour, despite a much smaller pot of money. This year, with an increased budget of around £ 23 million, still well below Ineos’ estimated £ 37 million budget, they beat the British team at their own game by driving the pack from the front.
What now? This year’s best Briton, Adam Yates, will join next year. But in the shorter term, there will be harsh words about Brailsford. Bradley Wiggins, the first Team Sky champion, has already joked, saying, “If it had been football, Dave would be out.” A blip or a new normal?