The first day of the year is a special one in the world of professional cycling. It’s the day all fans wait with bated breath to see all those riders who have changed team reveal themselves in their new kits. It’s a monumental occasion every year but this year, in particular, seemed to produce a real vintage as some of the peloton’s best known riders shifted team for the 2021 season.
Among those were some of the biggest names in the sport who have long become stalwarts of their teams after years of loyal service. For Chris Froome… No Kask helmet, no Oakley sunglasses, no Pinarello bike. Instead, an HJC helmet, Scicon sunglasses, a Factor bike. Froome has moved to Israel Start-Up Nation, in what could be the most important season of his career. Can he return to the form he showed prior to the 2019 horror crash? Can he win another Grand Tour? Can he function away from the support of Ineos?
Mark Cavendish is back in the blues of Deceuninck-QuickStep. The Manx sprinter was keen to return to the Belgian team, yet their tight budget meant the odds of it happening were slim. With his contract up at Bahrain-McLaren, it looked as if retirement would be Cavendish’s only option.
For Cav, it offers him a lifeline. For the team, it offers great exposure for their sponsors. It would be incredible if he could he roll back the clock and take one final, big win.
The Yates twins will be riding on opposing teams this year, with Adam leaving Simon for the Ineos Grenadiers. He joins as part of a bumper quintet of signings, alongside Richie Porte, Laurens De Plus, Dani Martinez and Tom Pidcock, who have all been brought in to add extra steel and flex to the stage-racing core. Yates could also be a factor in races such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he has finished in the top 10 on two occasions. It speaks volumes when a rider like Porte, who finished third in the Tour, is happy to sign for the team in full knowledge that he will ride as a super domestique.
In theory, the Yates’ move makes perfect sense. The ageing of Geraint Thomas and departure of Froome leaves Ineos with just the one British Grand Tour specialist, Tao Geoghegan Hart. Adam has the ability to fill the Froome/Thomas void and Ineos will have the resources and teammates to help unlock any Grand Tour-conquering potential. But in reality, there’s the fact that Grand Tour leadership will be a duty Yates will have to fight Thomas, Geoghegan Hart, Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz and Pavel Sivakov for.
Team Ineos enjoyed a new name as Ineos Grenadiers in 2020 and are heading into their second full season under Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s ownership. The team with the biggest budget in professional cycling have amassed arguably their strongest ever line-up ahead of the 2021 season. They have a squad of 29 riders, with average age: 26.9 (youngest: Carlos Rodriguez, 19years; oldest: Michal Golas, 36years)
In his post Giro interview, Dave Brailsford talked about how racing has changed. As a team, he said, they have done the train & they have done the defensive style riding, they have won a lot like that, but it is not much fun…. “It is about emotion & exhilarating moments of racing, at that’s where they want to be….” He went on to say that it’s about style and how you get there…”We are the Granadier now…. “
Last year was a hectic year for all the cycling teams and for Team INEOS it was also a year of transition. Until the Italian Grand Tour, they had disappointed in several key races, including the Tour de France, where they failed to contest for the maillot jaune and Egan Bernal, abandoned with a back injury.
The Giro results put a much-needed gloss on the campaign, with Tao Geoghegan Hart becoming just the second British winner of the race thanks to a stunning turn of events in the final week. As a unit, Ineos bossed the race, picking up seven stage wins with a drive that demonstrated both their depth of talent and their next crop of leaders.
Overall, 2020 was a season of change for the British team, and while they underperformed in a number of aspects, they deserve credit in the way that they bounced back to rescue the year. It’s also worth remembering that the team went almost the entire year without Nicolas Portal, who tragically died in March. He was an integral part of almost every aspect within the team, and while the rest of the management diligently shared some of the late Frenchman’s practical duties, nothing really made up for his dynamism or ability to mentor the riders through challenging scenarios. He left a huge hole, both physically and emotionally, and the sport of cycling, not just Ineos, is worse off without him.
A Tour team containing Bernal (2019 Tour de France Winner), Carapaz (2019 Giro d’Italia Winner), Thomas (2018 Tour de France Winner) and possibly Pavel Sivakov, Filippo Ganna & Michal Kwiatkowski might dent Geoghegan Hart’s (2020 Giro d’Italia Winner) leadership challenge. For Tao, going to the Giro this year might just provide a clearer path to team leadership. Either way, whether he rides the Tour or the Giro, the 25-year-old appears to be the real deal, and in a couple more years could be a central leader on the team.
Ineos has won the Tour de France every year bar two since 2012, while their domination has been built on mustering the best line-ups that money can buy before steamrolling over the opposition. It’s not necessarily the most appealing tactic, and it’s one of the several reasons why they’re so polarising in terms of appeal, but their record is streaks ahead of the competition.
The Giro d’Italia, however, was a reminder that the team can win with style, and their roster points to more aggressive racing in the next few years. The team also has arguably the two best time trialists in the world in Rohan Dennis and Filippo Ganna, with both riders sharing the last three time trial world titles between them.
Overall, this team is brimming with depth, and it’s not just Ineos’ experience that stands out, but also their recruitment of young riders. A couple of years ago, Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart were the young kids on the block, while 2021 marks Tom Pidcock’s arrival at WorldTour level and continue the development of riders like Carlos Rodriguez and Ethan Hayter.
Ineos Grenadiers could select rosters for all three Grand Tours and conceivably dominate them all. Obviously, racing is never quite that predictable, and there will be a couple of interesting sub plots to follow next year. Overall, this is the best-equipped stage-racing team in the world.