The leaders are changing, but not the results, for the moment: the Ineos team, the first financial power of the peloton, risks seeing the Tour de France elude them for the second year in a row. Air in the two alpine stages, the outgoing winner Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates) is indeed a big favorite to his succession. And this, despite the bunch of strong men aligned by Ineos.
“We are in uncharted territory,” admitted Dave Brailsford, the boss of the winning team of seven of the last nine Tours de France. “We keep our cool. The performance (by Pogacar) is fantastic but you never know what can happen, ”said the Briton in an interview with the Cyclingnews site, on Saturday at the finish of the 8th stage. Ineos has something to be taken aback. Biggest budget of the professional peloton – in 2020, it was valued at more than 40 million euros although the team does not communicate figures – the British formation is not used to sharing.
Fell on a bone
The former Sky man helped Bradley Wiggins become the first British winner of the Grand Loop in 2012 and then backed Chris Froome in winning all four titles. With the victories of Geraint Thomas in 2018 and especially the young Egan Bernal the following year, the future seemed assured.
The ace ! The Colombian, named leader in 2020, fell on a bone in the person of Pogacar and even had to leave the Tour prematurely, left behind in the general classification and defeated by back pain. The 2021 edition should therefore be the Tour de la Reconquest, without Bernal winner in May of the Tour of Italy but with Richard Carapaz, Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richie Porte. “I said before the start that you had to expect the unexpected … and the race was crazy,” said Brailsford, amazed after the first eight stages.
From the evening of the 3rd stage, because of crashes or failures, Carapaz became in his team the only serious competitor of the Slovenian terror. Offensive, persevering but powerless, the Ecuadorian (5th) is 5 min 33 behind Pogacar after nine stages.
“First round finished. There are two left, ”Carapaz tried to positively affect Sunday on the eve of the day of rest.
“The team was very good, we are in a very good position, fighting for the podium,” he persisted on Monday. “We do not lower our guard and we continue to challenge” the yellow jersey, replied Brailsford, more ambitious. “Pogacar is certainly the strongest on the Tour but there is still a long way to go,” added the Briton. “It should have been a Roglic-Pogacar duel but Roglic is already eliminated (he gave up on Sunday morning, Editor’s note) and Pogacar dominates” the Great Loop.
Grit one’s teeth
Ineos may find solace in the rout of Jumbo, another power of the crestfallen platoon. Having come to the Tour with Roglic as the only leader, the Dutch team is destitute even before having completed half of the Tour. “With the abandonment of Primoz and Robert Gesink (fallen during the 3rd stage, Editor’s note), it is with sadness that I watch the first week of the Tour”, commented Richard Plugge, the director of Jumbo.
“We lost a great lieutenant and our headliner. It hurts a lot, ”he said.
Under these conditions, “what else to do but bite the bullet and try to keep going?” Geraint Thomas wondered Sunday. The Ineos, like others, still have twelve steps to find the answer.
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