With Chris Froome back in the picture, Team Ineos manager Sir Dave Brailsford faces one of the hardest decisions in the cycling world – who will be his lead General Classification (GC) riders at this year’s Tour de France.
While most cycling fans will be delighted the Tour will go ahead on 29 August, the delayed start from July may benefit Froome above all other riders.
The four-time champion crashed in June last year ahead of the fourth stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné. He fractured his ribs, femur and elbow, which kept him out of the saddle until the UAE Tour in February.
Who are the top riders at Team Ineos?
Froome will want to return to claim his fifth maillot jaune, while Egan Bernal will want to defend his 2019 title. With 2018 winner Gerraint Thomas and new team member Richard Carapaz also in the picture, Brailsford has an unenviable task.
Add in the condensed race calendar this year, should Ineos want to stage a real GC attack at La Vuelta, the Giro d’Italia, and the Tour de France, it’s unlikely there will be space for more than two GC riders in France.
Having won his first Grand Tour at the Giro d’Italia in 2019, Carapaz earned himself a move to Team Ineos at the start of the 2020 season.
In 2018 the Ecuadorian finished 18th at La Vuelta as he supported Spaniard Alejandro Valverde to win the green jersey. This came after impressing at the Giro that year, where he held the white jersey from stages six to 13.
There’s no doubting Carapaz’s credentials. ‘La Locomotora’ is well worth his nickname having won the maglia rosa against strong GC contenders in Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin, Primoz Roglič and Simon Yates.
However, the 27-year-old hasn’t ridden a Tour de France before so is an unlikely choice to head Ineos this time round. Moreover, with the 2020 Giro beginning on 3 October, it’s unlikely the Ecuadorian would want to jeopardise his chances of defending his title by riding in the Tour a month beforehand.
Last chance for Froome?
As a bastion of English cycling, few can compare to Froome. A four-time winner of the Tour de France and seven-time Grand Tour winner overall, he is the most successful GC rider in English history. What better way for him to cement his superstar status than by winning a fifth Tour this year to join the elite group of five-time winners?
Only Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain can boast such an honour.
However, at the age of 35 Froome is in the twilight years of his career and chances to win another Tour are running out. Of the four five-time champions, Anquetil was the oldest when he won his fifth yellow jersey aged 30.
Despite this, if it weren’t for the fact Froome had suffered such injuries this time last year, there’s no doubt he would have been high in the 2019 GC standings. Moreover, were it not for said injuries there would probably be no debate as to whether he would be GC leader for Ineos this year.
As Froome will be well aware, though, the Tour is a race unlike any other. The toll of three hard weeks of riding, so soon after returning from injury, could affect not just his ride this year but those in years to come. So the choice may not be as clear cut as it appears.
There’s also the situation surrounding Froome’s contract. He has yet to pen a new deal and it seems likely the question over the GC leadership is the main bone of contention.
With the debate continuing, many former stars have offered Froome advice in the media. Hinault said recently if Froome were not to win this year “because he has not received the full support of his teammates, it is better to move to a team where it is sure he is the only leader for the tour”.
Thomas to be sidelined?
One person who may not benefit from Froome’s return is Welshman Geraint Thomas. The winner of the 2018 yellow jersey finished second to team-mate Bernal last year and has a real chance of winning another GC in 2020.
Safe to say, if the 2018 BBC Sports Personality Of The Year were at any other team he would mostly likely be their main GC rider. However, Thomas may find himself pushed into the wings once more.
If Froome is deemed fit, it seems likely ‘G’ won’t find himself in France at all, let alone with the backing of the whole Ineos team. In fact with Carapaz likely to ride the Giro, which will overlap with this year’s La Vuelta, Thomas could find himself heading an Ineos team in Spain in October.
While this would be a fantastic opportunity to add another Grand Tour to his trophy cabinet, few will believe he would want to be anywhere other than France this summer.
Again, at the age of 34 he’ll have few opportunities to secure another yellow jersey. And with Tao Geoghegan Hart, Bernal and Carapaz coming through the ranks, G may find himself being pushed down the pecking order yet again.
Exciting young talent
Having won his first Grand Tour at only his second attempt, 23-year-old Colombian Bernal is probably the most exciting young talent in professional cycling. Or at Team Ineos at least.
Bernal became the youngest winner of the Tour de France since Francois Faber in 1909, edging out Thomas over the 21 stages.
After such an impressive ride and at such a young age, Bernal is being tipped for a fantastic career with GC titles galore. To not choose Bernal for the 2020 edition would not only mean Brailsford would deny the young man the chance to defend his title but also potentially upset the most valuable young rider in his team.
Bernal will be there
Unsurprisingly it seems inevitable, and justified, that Bernal will be in France come 29 August and there’s no reason to suppose he can’t hold on to his yellow jersey for another year.
While British cycling fans may love to see Thomas and Froome line up for Ineos again at the Tour de France, cycling is a ruthless sport with no place for sentimentality. It’s a fact both men know all too well.
As such, it seems likely Bernal will be accompanied by Froome if he’s given the green light after injury. Thomas will only make the Tour if Brailsford risks taking three GC candidates in his 2020 team.
- Scotland sets precedent: First country to introduce LGBT+ curriculum in schools
- Activist midwife Kyia Omoshebi on her midwifery journey, institutional racism and working through the pandemic
- From America first to America last, or perhaps to America not at all
- A petition to have 365 Days removed from Netflix is gaining ground – this is why it should succeed
- Report: Celtic interested in Newcastle United’s Freddie Woodman