IIn sports, failure can be relative. If Team Ineos concluded their 2021 season on Sunday, when the Tour de France ends in Paris, they would have the right to look back with some pride at a series of stage race victories in May and June that included the Giro d’Italia and the Tours of Romandie, Switzerland and Catalonia, and the Criterium du Dauphiné, the main preparatory race for the Tour de France. Dave Brailsford’s team dominated those races, taking the Giro with ease and scoring a 1-2-3 in Catalonia.
The problem is that in cycling today, success or failure is largely tied to just one event: the Tour de France. This has been the case since the sport went global in the mid-1980s, with the public and sponsors paying disproportionate attention to one race, the one circumnavigating France in July. That has been to the detriment of the rest of the cycling calendar, imagine if tennis players were judged solely on their performance at Wimbledon, but argue all you want, that’s how the sport has been for almost 40 years.
Success in the Tour de France is also measured in different ways. For some teams, particularly low-budget French teams, just being on the starting line is enough to justify their existence, given the prestige that comes with it, not to mention the opportunity to bring current and potential sponsors to heart. of one of the sports. major global events. The success scale increases according to track record, budget, and ambition.
For a team in the history of Ineos, the budget (50 million euros in 2020, certainly more this year) and the declared ambition, the 2021 Tour has been terrible. Most professional cycling teams would dream of putting a rider on the podium the way Ineos has done this year with Richard Carapaz, but for the biggest budget team in the sport, with seven Tour victories on July 8 to his name. between 2012 and 2019, and with visibly the strongest team at the start of the race three weeks ago, it is well below expectations.
Carapaz fought bravely, but in vain, against the precocious strength of Tadej Pogacar, who won the two toughest Pyrenean stages this week. In their defense, the team would aim for a clash that nearly knocked 2018 winner Geraint Thomas out of the race, but for a team that featured three Grand Tour winners in Thomas, Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan Hart, their career was on the mark. In contrast to one of the other three great teams on the Tour, Jumbo-Visma.
Jumbo lost their leader, Primoz Roglic, to a crash, but still managed to win two prestigious mountain stages and Saturday’s time trial while putting one of their mountain lieutenants, Jonas Vingegaard, on the podium alongside Carapaz. Suffering worse luck than Ineos (this week they were left with four drivers out of eight participants), they managed to turn their Tour around thanks to some smart and daring races, using their resources to the fullest.
They gambled on pushing Wout van Aert to an early breakout on the Mont Ventoux stage in week two and were rewarded with victory, taking risks again on the road to Andorra last Sunday by putting Van Aert and his another climber, Sepp Kuss. of the USA, in the rest of the day. That was a roll of the dice because it left Vingegaard unsupported and exposed to incident or attack, but it again resulted in victory, for Kuss.
Ineos’ leadership that day was disconcerting: two of his second strongest, Dylan van Baarle and Jonathan Castroviejo, were featured in the separatist group alongside Kuss, but were removed to support Carapaz rather than have the opportunity to compete on their own. . Ineos rode hard behind the breakout that day, but singularly failed to put Pogacar in trouble, just as they had done on Mont Ventoux behind Van Aert, a tactic former Tour King of the Mountains Philippa York called “a project vain”.
Worse still, they raced in exactly the same way in the Pyrenean stages on Wednesday and Thursday, in effect controlling the Pogacar race, which then won both stages. Having three chances to change from a failed game plan, his inability to do so was evident, even more so when Brailsford had stated earlier this season that his team would compete in a more interesting and innovative way. Risk-taking and initiative were minimal, rewards fully proportionate.
Instead, Ineos has seemed like a washed-out imitation of the Team Sky teams that led Chris Froome to four Tour victories, but produced tactics that have favored Pogacar. The strategy of sending their 2019 Tour winner Egan Bernal to the Giro and saving Thomas, Geoghegan Hart and Carapaz for the Tour seems flawed. They may save face by winning the Vuelta a España later this season, but their season will be tainted by the clear pale performance of recent weeks.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism