A patchy day on Velefique pretty much sums up the fates of Ineos Grenadiers at this year’s Vuelta.
The British team have been good in fits and starts during the first nine days of La Vuelta, without ever really stamping their authority on the race. Their position on GC at the end of a bruising first week – fifth with Egan Bernal and sixth with Adam Yates, plus Richard Carapaz in 21st – pretty much sums it up. Impressive strength in depth, but lacking a killer edge.
On Sunday, Ineos showed some real attacking intent which – despite being ultimately unsuccessful – really animated the race on the slopes of Velefique. But they also got one thing massively wrong.
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When Ineos came to the front of the peloton to set the pace in the second half of Stage 9, it seemed like they had a plan: drill it on the front of the peloton, then send one of their three Galactico ‘co-leaders’ up the road to try and wear out Primoz Roglič and Jumbo-Visma.
In the end it didn’t happen that way. They did the drilling on the front as the race made its way up the massive climb to Alto Collado Venta Luisa, with Dylan van Baarle putting in a characteristically strong performance, but the early attack never came. Carapaz was not utilised, nor did Yates try and break free of the peloton. The team was – it seemed – content to expend energy, while giving Roglic what amounted to an armchair ride to the foot of Velefique.
Indeed, it seemed like Jumbo-Visma did more damage to Jumbo-Visma’s strength in numbers than Ineos managed to. After Ineos abandoned the pace-setting, Jumbo came back to the front and it was this effort that eventually saw Sam Oomen and Koen Bouwman get distanced, just as the red jersey group reached the foot of the Alto de Velefique. Maybe Ineos’ work on the preceding climbs had tired Jumbo out more than it appeared.
The decision to do all that work with seemingly no end-product drew a lot of criticism, as well as outright mystification.
Some on social media suggested Ineos had become ‘the new Movistar’, a team which in the last decade or so has become shorthand for poor tactical decisions. Ironically, Movistar are playing a blinder in this year’s Vuelta, the team’s home Grand Tour, with Enric Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez currently both on the GC podium.
The truth is Ineos’ situation at the 2021 Vuelta is virtually the same as Movistar’s in the mid-2010s. They are trying to win a Grand Tour without having the out-and-out strongest rider. Between 2012 and 2019, the strongest stage racer in the world rode for Team Sky – and so it was Movistar who had to try to overcome superior firepower with numbers. It is a very hard thing to achieve, and Movistar became known for trying hard but never quite succeeding.
On Sunday, eventually the attacks did come from Ineos, from Yates first, and later Carapaz, while Bernal battled valiantly to keep in contact despite clearly suffering on the slopes of the Almerian mountain. But the attacks – swashbuckling though they were – were simply not strong enough. Yates and Carapaz were simply not strong enough. And there is only so much you can actually do against an opponent that has stronger legs.
Would Yates and Ineos have fared better in the final without pulling the peloton for Roglic for 30-odd kilometres to seemingly no effect? Probably, yes. Would it ultimately have made any difference in the face of an opponent who is so undeniably strong as Roglic? This is harder to say.

‘Adam looks to have better legs than Egan’ – Blythe on the ‘awful’ situation at Ineos

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