Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. A nice name for beautiful memories, no doubt sweet to the ears of the leaders of the Ineos-Grenadiers formation. The last two times that the Tour had visited the city of Drôme – from where the twelfth stage started, this Thursday, July 8 – the British team reigned supreme in the race. In 2012 with Bradley Wiggins, in 2018 with Geraint Thomas. The team was called Sky, and its sky was clear.
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It was a good time … that the collective can no longer find. Evidenced by the incredible scenario of the Mont-Ventoux stage, Wednesday July 7. A long breakaway, behind which the Ineos seemed to control the stage for a long time, leading in full steam the group of the rival yellow jersey, Tadej Pogacar. The will to come back on the fugitives, at the same time as to harden the race to eliminate one by one the leaders of the group – including the Slovenian, if possible. In short, the Ineos as before, ahead and at full speed.
An inappropriate team strategy
Except that… in the last climb of the Giant of Provence, the men in black who tried to light wicks gradually died out. The fireworks were rather on the side of the Dutch team Jumbo-Visma, the big winner of the stage with the Belgian Wout van Aert the solo winner, and the young Dane Jonas Vingegaard who shakes a bit the superb of Tadej Pogacar in the leaving a few meters at the top of Ventoux.
Assessment for the Ineos: a day to be exhausted for nothing, ended even by the loss of one of the eight riders in the formation, the Briton Luke Rowe, who arrived late. All false. The ogre of yesterday is counting his giblets. For the fight, it lacks muscle. Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz is certainly fourth in the general classification, just a second off the podium, but he can no longer hope for more than a stage victory. And the rest of the troop is dispersed like a puzzle.
A multi-shot rifle
Ineos-Grenadiers had arrived on this Tour with a multiple shot rifle. Three former Grand Tour winners – that of Italy for Richard Carapaz in 2019 and Tao Geoghegan Hart in 2020, the Great Loop for Geraint Thomas in 2018 – and a fourth outsider in form, Richie Porte, third on the Tour 2020 and crowned on the last Critérium du Dauphiné. After the Ventoux, the Australian was at 33e place in the general, Thomas in the 48e, Geoghegan Hart at 83e.
” Bad luck “, accuses Geraint Thomas, victim since the start of several falls and a dislocated shoulder. Almost all of his teammates have been rubbing shoulders with the tarmac. But they are not the only ones. Their Jumbo-Visma rivals also left feathers on the side of the road, losing their leader Primoz Roglic, his loyal lieutenant Robert Gesink and at the foot of the Ventoux the valiant grumpy Tony Martin. Yet they still make sparks, at least by not missing the opportunities that pass.
An aging collective
By trying Wednesday to revive the pride of yesteryear, the Ineos seemed to run against the tide of a Tour thwarting old-fashioned strategies. Teamwork pays off in sprints – the raid of a Mark Cavendish propelled by his troops testifies to it – but otherwise, it’s more a matter of blasters and youthful enthusiasm. “I don’t see a team strong enough to control. Ineos Grenadiers no longer has the power to strike before ”, analyzed the former-Sky Bradley Wiggins now commentator for Eurosport international. “This Tour is quite unique, it looks like a junior race”.
Ineos is undoubtedly not cut out for these conditions, with a workforce showing more than 31 years of average age. “The team may be aging”, summarizes, concise, Cédric Vasseur, the manager of Cofidis. The youth of Ineos is in fact elsewhere, triumphant with an Egan Bernal (24) who preferred to win the Tour of Italy this year.
The Tour last year was delivered on the wire to a youngster of 21 years, single man tumbled by surprise. Tadej Pogacar announced the rest. The same thing this year, but over the length and with little more support. As soon as the road rises, it’s every man for himself, the Sky / Ineos method locks are over. It’s a change of air (and era?) All in all quite fresh.