Ineos Grenadiers achieve a first ever one-two-three
Ineos Grenadiers have achieved an awful lot during their first decade in professional cycling, but never before had they placed three riders on the podium of a WorldTour stage race.
Their dominance of Volta a Catalunya began on stage two’s time trial, where Rohan Dennis delivered a stage win and Richie Porte, Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas also placed inside the top 10.
By the time the successive mountain top finishes on stages three and four had been completed, their grip on the race was as tight as a vice, with Yates, Porte and Thomas already placing first, second and third on GC respectively.
From that point on they had no problem defending the overall lead, remaining in total control even as a huge group went up the road on stage five by ensuring that no dangerous rider on GC was allowed to go clear. By the final stage in Barcelona, their main rival Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) had limited himself to deposing one of their trio to earn a podium finish rather than overall victory, and wasn’t even able to do that.
It was a stunningly commanding performance from the whole team that bodes well for the rest of the season, and the fact that two of the riders they placed on the podium were new signings for this season indicates just how much the team has improved for 2021.
Adam Yates’ transfer to Ineos is proving to be a success
This was the first time the Yates brothers had gone head-to-head since Adam left BikeExchange for Ineos Grenadiers, and he came out categorically on top by winning the overall while Simon only scraped into the top 10.
In fact, Adam has on the whole started the season much brighter than Simon, and his new environment at Ineos Grenadiers already seems to be having a significant effect. Victory here follows second overall at the UAE Tour, (where only the brilliance of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) prevented him from winning), and is also the most prestigious stage race victory of his career.
Yates is clearly benefiting from having such strong team-mates to support him, while he also provides Ineos Grenadiers a different option to their usual approach. His attacking style and punchy kick contrasts with the diesel engines of some of their other leaders (like Porte and Thomas), and was a key factor in the attack that saw him win atop Vallter 2000 on stage three.
Yates is currently expected to target the Vuelta a España rather than the Tour de France — but can the team really afford to leave him out the Tour line-up if he keeps riding like this?
Stages wins for fan favourites
Some of cycling’s most charismatic names were among the stage winners in Catalunya this week.
The much-loved Esteban Chaves (BikeExchange) flashed his famous wide grin at the finish line on stage four, which he won from a powerful solo attack on the final climb, having finished second the day before behind Adam Yates.
Two days later Peter Sagan claimed his first win of the season in a sprint finish (making it two in two days for Bora-Hansgrohe after Lennard Kämna was rewarded for his persistence with a breakaway win on stage five). The signs are that he’ll arrive in Belgian next week back in form for the remaining cobbled Classics.
And, not to be upstaged, the irrepressible Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) left it until the final day to get into the day’s break, from which he broke clear along with Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) 44km before attacking the Slovenian for victory. It was a ride that epitomised the panache that has made De Gendt such a popular rider, and also earned Lotto-Social a second stage win following Andreas Kron’s surprise triumph on the opening day.
Movistar’s wait for a first win in 2021 continues
Team Movistar showed signs of improvement at the Volta a Catalunya, but their long winless streak that stretches all the way back to last October continued.
Desperate to reverse their fortunes, the team asserted themselves on the opening stage by leading the bunch in the hope of setting Alejandro Valverde for a stage win, but let a four-man group go in the finale.
Valverde was clearly in great form, however, and rode aggressively on the following stage’s mountain top finish. But s stage win eluded him, as he instead finished third, and the team’s tactics appeared confused the following day when Enric Mas made an attack when it seemed as though he’d be better used as a domestique to help try to neutralise Esteban Chaves’ attack in order to allow Valverde to go for victory.
Their next ploy was to get riders into breakaways, and the total of four riders they placed in stage six’s breakaway was more than any other team. But despite the best efforts of Carlos Verona, neither he or the others were able to take victory.
Neither were they able to propel Valverde to a podium spot overall on the final stage, despite spending all of the finale attempting to do so by setting a searing pace in the peloton. For all their efforts, Movistar come home from the Volta a Catalunya empty handed, and ever more anxious to at last open their 2021 victory account.
A Froome comeback is looking increasingly unlikely
Chris Froome’s hopes of returning to his old form before July’s Tour de France appear to be diminishing, as he continued to struggle all week in Catalunya.
Rather than improving upon his underwhelming start to the season at the UAE Tour, Froome’s form was actually a little worse this week.
The Israel Start-Up Nation rider was dropped on a category one climb on the opening stage from a peloton that took the climb slowly and still featured around 80 riders at the top, and was also off the pace in the time trial, where he finished 90th
He did at least manage to offer his team-mates some significant support on stage six when he put in several turns at the front of the peloton chasing down a breakaway.
But with the Tour now only just over three months away, he’s rapidly running out of time to be where he needs to be to fulfil his goal of competing for GC. We may never see the four-time Tour de France winner at his best again.