isIn sport, failure can be relative. If the Ineos team ended its 2021 season on Sunday, at the end of the Tour de France in Paris, it would have the right to recall with some pride a series of stage victories in May and June, including the Giro d’Italia and the Tours of Romandie, Switzerland and Catalonia, and the Critérium du Dauphiné, the first warm-up race of the Tour de France. Dave Brailsford’s team dominated these races, winning the Giro in a simple style and scoring a 1-2-3 in Catalonia.
The problem is that in today’s cycling success or failure is largely down to one event: the Tour de France. It has been so since the sport went global in the mid-1980s, and the public and sponsors began to pay disproportionate attention to one race, the one that circled France in July. It has been to the detriment of the rest of the cycling calendar – imagine if tennis players were judged purely on their performances at Wimbledon – but argue whatever you want, this is how the sport has been for almost 40 years.
The success of the Tour de France can also be measured in different ways. For some teams – French teams with a low budget in particular – the simple fact of being on the starting line is enough to justify their existence, given the prestige that this brings, not to mention the opportunity to bring back donors. current and potential funds at the heart of a sport’s biggest world events. The ladder of success then goes upward based on track record, budget, and ambition.
For a team in the history of Ineos, the budget – 50 million euros in 2020, probably more this year – and the ambition displayed, the 2021 Tour has been disastrous. Most professional cycling teams would dream of putting a rider on the podium like Ineos did this year with Richard Carapaz, but for the sport’s biggest budget team, with seven Tour wins in July 8 in his active between 2012 and 2019, and with obviously the strongest roster at the start of the race three weeks ago, it is well below expectations.
Carapaz fought valiantly, but in vain, against the precocious strength of Tadej Pogacar, winner this week of the two most difficult Pyrenean stages. In their defense, the team reported an accident that nearly put 2018 winner Geraint Thomas out of the race, but for a team that fielded three Grand Tour winners in Thomas, Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan Hart, their race was in stark contrast to one of the other three big teams on the Tour, Jumbo-Visma.
Jumbo lost leader Primoz Roglic in a crash but still managed to win two prestigious mountain stages and Saturday’s time trial while placing one of his mountain lieutenants, Jonas Vingegaard, on the podium. alongside Carapaz. Less fortunate than Ineos – they were four this week out of eight starters – they managed to overthrow their Tour thanks to intelligent and daring races, using their resources to the maximum.
They made the bet to push Wout van Aert into an early breakaway on the Mont Ventoux stage in the second week and were rewarded with the victory, and they again took risks on the road to Andorra last Sunday by putting Van Aert and their other climber, Sepp Kuss from the United States, in today’s break. It was a roll of the dice as it left Vingegaard unsupported and exposed to mishap or attack, but again it resulted in victory, for Kuss.
Ineos’ conduct that day was baffling: two of their strongest second arms, Dylan van Baarle and Jonathan Castroviejo, were in the breakaway group alongside Kuss, but were withdrawn to support Carapaz rather than being offered the chance to run for themselves. Ineos rode hard behind the breakaway that day, but singularly failed to put Pogacar in trouble, just as they did on Mont Ventoux behind Van Aert, a tactic that the former King of the Tour of the mountains Philippa York called it a “vanity project”.
Worse yet, they rode exactly the same way during the Pyrenean stages on Wednesday and Thursday, effectively controlling the race for Pogacar, who went on to win both stages. Considering three chances to pass from a failed game plan, their inability to do so was glaring, especially since Brailsford had said earlier this season that his team will run in a more interesting and innovative way. The risk-taking and initiative were minimal, the rewards quite commensurate.
Instead, Ineos looked like a faded imitation of the Team Sky sides that led Chris Froome to four Tour wins, but produced tactics that made Pogacar’s game. 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 might save face by winning the Vuelta a España later this season, but their season will be colored by the markedly pale performances in recent weeks.