First the inspiration, then the domination. The Volta a Catalunya has been in the mountains for two stages now and we have seen Ineos take two drastically differing approaches to securing their objectives. In tandem, these two methods have been devastatingly effective.
On stage three, Adam Yates kicked clear of the group of favourites and charged alone to the finish line at Vallter 2000. His margin of victory was enough to take the lead in the race, and at the same time his solo raid took the pressure off his teammates in the group behind.
After enjoying a dreamy armchair ride up the mountain, Geraint Thomas placed 'best-of-the-rest', leading the group of favourites over the finish line. Only Esteban Chaves (Team BikeExchange), a late (perhaps too late) counter-attacker and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) – who attacked from 9km out and just about held on for a podium – finished ahead of Thomas on the stage.
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It was a race of pure calculated aggression, and it paid off for Ineos with the stage win, the overall race lead, plus three of their riders in the top four on general classification.
Adam Yates solos to victory on Stage 3 of Volta a Catalunya
What followed on Thursday for Stage 4 was much, much closer to the Team Sky we knew of old. It was precise, it was calculated, it was contained.
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At the start of the long final climb to Port Ainé, Ineos came to the front and slowly burned through their impressive reserves of firepower. Rohan 'The Donkey' Dennis put in a big shift, and rode the climb at a pace that kept things uncomfortable for those riders behind, and when Chaves – who is looking in amazing form at the moment – set off on what proved to be the winning attack, Ineos simply watched him go. Their modus operandi in the mountains has always been to ride a high number of watts, without responding to the attacks of other teams, and while they never caught Chaves again, the work of Dennis and then Richard Carapaz & Richie Porte was enough to keep the Colombian on a tight leash.
Crucially, the brisk but not totally explosive pace set by Ineos' domestiques during the ascent of Port Ainé was enough to dislodge Joao Almeida (Deceuninck QuickStep) from the group containing Adam Yates – and so the Portuguese has now tumbled out of the top three on GC. These two high-mountain stages were always likely to be a tough test for Almeida, who ceded the maglia rosa last year at the Giro when the race moved into similar terrain. Despite the solid efforts of Fausto Masnada to assist him, the last five kilometres proved just a little bit too hard for Almeida, who now sits seventh.
After Stage 4, Ineos now occupy all three of the podium places through Yates, Porte and Thomas – and with the remaining stages expected to provide very few surprises on the GC front, it will take a spectacular ambush or tremendous dose of misfortune to dislodge them from the victory. The past two days have shown that Ineos have not so much left their old tactics behind, but embraced the most devastating components of a new set as well – creating a monstrously powerful hybrid that sees them capable of both attack and defence.
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