Rod Ellingworth’s return to Ineos Grenadiers as director of racing has thrown up a number of questions and possible outcomes that are directly impacted by the Briton’s decision.
The coach has left Bahrain-McLaren after just one season as team principal, choosing to return to the British WorldTour outfit where he was a leading figure in their successes between 2010 and 2019.
Here are six reasons why his return to work alongside Sir Dave Brailsford is important to Ineos Grenadiers, and signal a new and unknown direction for Bahrain-McLaren, soon to be known as Bahrain-Victorious.
The power of Ineos
The British outfit’s super-team status is well-known and an irresistible magnet for riders and coaches alike, attracted by increased personal finances but also the likelihood of success.
Still, though, this might be one of their biggest coups. Regardless of Ellingworth’s history with them, to be able to persuade a team principal of a major rival to leave and join for what, is on paper at least, a position of less authority and control, is a major deal.
It’s never quite appropriate to provide a comparison with other sports and industries for there are numerous nuances and complexities, but we will do just that: what Ellingworth is doing in football teams is forgoing the opportunity to continue managing a team competing for top honours, to join a rival to work as a director of football. Still powerful, but not the man who has the final say.
Ineos’ power has clearly not faded in spite of Jumbo-Visma’s ascent to the top of the WorldTour hierarchy.
A change in Ineos’ coaching team
Ineos’ failure to retain their Tour de France title was well-documented throughout September, with commentators, experts and social media all voicing their opinions on what the team needed to do to arrest what was seen as a potential slide backwards.
Though Tao Geoghegan Hart’s Giro d’Italia win and the seven stage wins accrued there, followed by Richard Carapaz’s second at the Vuelta a España tempered such accusations, the general opinion was that Ineos needed to revamp their coaching set-up.
It was said that the team were missing the spark provided by Nico Portal, who tragically passed away in March after a heart attack.
Suggested that there was a void of expertise, experience and know-how, Ellingworth’s return – coupled with Dan Hunt also rejoining – is a step to readdress such concerns.
The maxim says that going back never delivers the same results, but Ineos will be hoping to make a mockery of such an expression. That’s their clear intention, anyway.
Recruiting talent is a priority
Ineos have made some headline signings for the 2021 season with the impending arrivals of Adam Yates, Dani Martínez and multi-discipline star Tom Pidcock.
Ellingworth’s new remit will involve the overseeing of talent identification and recruitment, an area that the team have arguably lost out on in the last few years.
Though the signing of Pidcock – who joins the team from March – is a big signing given his proven talent and undoubted potential, there’s an acceptance that the team have missed out on other young talents in the last few years, especially British riders.
While Ethan Hayter is part of the team’s long-term plan, other homegrown talents have gone elsewhere: Mark Donovan to Team Sunweb; Fred Wright and Stevie Williams to Bahrain-McLaren; and Charlie Quarterman to Trek-Segafredo.
There are individual reasons behind such moves and not every British rider should feel obliged to join the country’s sole WorldTour outfit, but the quartet’s promise as junior and U23 riders indicates that they could have been valuable recruits for Ineos.
Ellingworth will be tasked with the job of making sure as many exciting prospects as possible are persuaded that their future is with Ineos Grenadiers and not elsewhere.
Bahrain's project is failing
The departure of their team principal after just 14 months in the role is a negative development in the project of Bahrain-McLaren.
Quite simply, it implies that the team’s plans have failed, or as they would prefer to say, have altered. Ellingworth was meant to steer the team towards glory, towards competing on a regular basis with Ineos, Jumbo-Visma and other top teams with large budgets, such as Movistar and Deceuninck-Quick Step
His exit, combined with McLaren’s withdrawal of sponsorship funds and the failure of Mark Cavendish to return to winning ways, is a major setback. What looked so exciting and promising just last autumn lays in tatters at the onset of the 2021 season.
The team and Ellingworth say that he has left the team in a better position than when he arrived, and that may be true in parts, but the team is heading into a new direction much, much earlier than they would have envisaged.
Ellingworth brought in with him his own staff and convinced many riders to join him, and a number will be disappointed by the news, none more so than Wright who Cycling Weekly understands was persuaded to join the team by the opportunity to work with Ellingworth.
Who takes over Bahrain?
Officially, the 2021 season starts in three weeks, but plans and preparations are already underway, with riders back training and teams hoping to arrange training camps in the New Year, coronavirus restrictions permitting.
Ellingworth leaving is an upheavel for Bahrain at the worst possible time. CW understands that Ellingworth was in Bahrain at the end of November meeting with the team’s sponsors, suggesting that they haven’t had sufficient time to identify and replace him.
Leading a WorldTour team is a major undertaking and there are very few figures capable of doing such a job, even less who are currently available.
It would be imagined that the team will aim to fill the vacancy as soon as possible to provide clarity and leadership, but equally the team’s owners cannot afford to get it wrong because as already mentioned, their project has already been hit substantially.
What happens to Landa?
Title for Bahrain-McLaren’s poster boy in 2020 was shared between Cavendish and Mikel Landa, with the latter eventually winning the claim as the team’s leading and stand-out performer.
His fourth-place at the Tour de France was a performance that Ellingworth highlighted as his proudest achievement in his short tenure overseeing the team.
Landa will be bitterly disappointed by the Briton’s exit. Having worked with him at Team Sky, he was convinced of joining Bahrain-McLaren from Movistar by the prospect of working once again with Ellingworth.
He trusted him. He had belief in his coaching methods, faith that he would get the best out of him, and ultimately the Basque rider felt comfortable leading the team, something that has not been the case in the past.
What now happens to the Spaniard? His erratic performances have always indicated that he could one day step back onto a podium at a Grand Tour like he did at the 2015 Giro d'Italia, but equally the turbulence that seems to follow him around demands a coach who can handle him. What Landa will we see moving forward?
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