Sir Dave Brailsford has confirmed Ineos Grenadiers’ expected leaders for the 2021 Tour de France.
The British duo of Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan-Hart will be vital to the team's plans, with Thomas set to lead Ineos alongside Richard Carapaz, as the team goes hunting for an eighth Tour de France title. Geoghegan Hart was named as a key rider who can really kick on from 2020's Giro d'Italia glory.
"Obviously with the time trial, the climbing and the nature of the Tour, it is very suited to Geraint’s attributes," Ineos boss Brailsford told a group of journalists on Wednesday.
"But equally, Tao is going to go and focus on the Tour this year and step up from his victory in the Giro last year."
Brailsford also explained that, while the exact roster for the French Grand Tour would be determined by form and the usual injuries and fluctuations of fitness, he already had a clear idea of who was in his Tour stream.
It is a characteristically powerful line-up of names, with Carapaz and Richie Porte both on the roster, with the Ecuadorian to be the team's second leader in the race. While Thomas can rely on his TT skills, Brailsford said he expected Carapaz to bring a much more opportunistic and attacking mindset to the race.
Porte, 36, delivered a career-best performance in the Tour last year, proving there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet. Carapaz also came agonisingly close to adding a Vuelta title to his Giro win, narrowly finishing second to Primoz Roglic.
Stalwarts Michal Kwiatkowski and Luke Rowe return, with the latter providing invaluable support on flatter stages. Rowe has proven himself adept on the kind of conditions that usually animate one-day races – crosswinds, heavy rains – and has been an invaluable domestique in his recent Tour performances.
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New signing Laurens De Plus also goes straight into Ineos’ plans for the Tour de France. He is a superb climber and will be an important addition to the squad’s mountain firepower. Spaniard Jonathan Castroviejo was named as being in the stream, too.
When asked if this might be Thomas’ final chance to win a second Tour title, Brailsford’s response was unequivocal.
"No I wouldn't say it’s his last Tour. It’s down to him really. I think when you get into your thirties it’s how hungry you are, and how much drive internally, inside the individual you still have. And if you still really have that burning desire and that drive, then the training and everything else and all the rest of it that you have to do with the commitment, and the sacrifice that you have to make, you can do it.
"We spoke last night before he started the Etoile de Besseges today, and he was super excited, couldn’t wait to start. He was like a junior again, so he’s really excited about this year."
While Egan Bernal was not mentioned as part of the discussion for the Tour de France stream, Brailsford did say it depends on the Colombian's level post-Giro whether he'll ride at the Tour de France.
"Egan may well, we wouldn’t rule out the fact...it depends how he comes out of the Giro, whether he goes to the Tour."
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Ineos’ Tour de France stream
- Geraint Thomas
- Richie Porte
- Tao Geoghegan-Hart
- Richard Carapaz
- Michal Kwiatkowski
- Luke Rowe
- Laurens De Plus
- Jonathan Castroviejo
It is, once again, an Ineos squad bursting with names that could easily be leading other WorldTour squads. Richie Porte is down to play fourth fiddle in a race he placed third in just last year. It’s an astonishingly strong line-up and the gauntlet has well and truly been laid down for UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma at this early juncture in the season.
While it’s something of a surprise to see Egan Bernal miss out on Tour selection, given he won the race just two years ago, a closer look at the course reveals what Brailsford’s thinking might be. It is thought that the time trialling-heavy course will suit the talents of Thomas better than those of Bernal. The lack of high-altitude finishes also plays more to the strengths of Thomas and Geoghegan-Hart than those of the altitude native, Bernal. The door is not entirely closed to Bernal's featuring at Le Tour, but with just 26 days turnaround from the final day in Milan to the first stage of Le Tour, it seems fanciful to think he could be a real factor in both races.
Ineos were criticised by some of the more jingoistic quarters of the British cycling community for not including enough homegrown riders in its 2020 Tour de France squad. With three UK-born riders slated to start, this is a huge reversal of what was seen as the organisation's move away from being an inherently British enterprise.
*Correction. An earlier version of this piece suggested Tao Geoghegan Hart would co-lead the squad, but this has since been clarified by Ineos Grenadiers.