While most people look towards the blossoming Ineos vs Jumbo-Visma rivalry to spice up the 2020 Grand Tours, there is one man in particular who is looking to make it a three-way battle for supremacy.
Rod Ellingworth will be team principal at Bahrain-McLaren for the first time in 2020, and after becoming accustomed to challenging for the Tour de France with his old Sky team, he will target the biggest prize in cycling in his first season.
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“I think it’s quite clear, the ambition within the team,” Ellingworth told Cycling Weekly, “we want to become a Grand Tour winning team.
“The yellow jersey at the Tour is a huge iconic jersey that we want to bring home here to McLaren, and also to Bahrain. So, you know, I think that was an obvious choice.”
The choice Ellingworth mentions is the one to bring Mikel Landa and Wout Poels into the fold at Bahrain-McLaren. He knew both riders during his Grand Tour-winning tenure at Sky, and hopes both talented climbers will help him win the French Grand Tour for his new employers.
“There’s got to be a certain path of building a team towards that goal. Obviously I knew both Wout and Mikel from before. You can clearly see the talent that these guys have got and I think if you want to try and win the Tour you’ve got to have real quality climbers, I think that’s been evident over the last however many years” Ellingworth said.
After stints at both Sky and Movistar, where he found himself playing second fiddle to other Grand Tour contenders, Mikel Landa will now be the sole focus of a WorldTour set-up, and his new boss backs him to be able to deliver.
“The game is changing,” Ellingworth added. “You just have to look at next year’s Tour. You know you’ve got to be adaptable, to stay flexible to the actual parcours that you’re going to be faced with. But I do think with Mikel we’ve got a potential Grand Tour winner, so we’re pretty confident there.”
One of the plot lines that will undoubtedly delight fans next season is Ellingworth taking on his old boss at Ineos, Dave Brailsford.
Ellingworth says him and Brailsford haven’t been speaking much, having been put on gardening leave for part of this season after his desire to leave the team became apparent, but was in contact after Brailsford received his cancer diagnosis on the eve of this year’s Tour de France.
“I haven’t spoke to Dave, I haven’t seen him, but we’ve messaged each other quite a bit, especially after him being sick, and I was pretty quick to congratulate them on the Tour, I know how hard those guys work,” Ellingworth said at Bahrain-McLaren’s press conference earlier this week.
Despite any personal feelings and friendship the pair share, it will soon be back to business and in Ellingworth’s case he knows exactly who he will be up against.
“I know Dave is ruthless. I’m happy to say that. Dave is ruthless. He’s now on the other side and it’s great isn’t it.
“He loves winning. And you know, Dave works relentlessly to try and be the very, very best. I don’t expect us to talk much.
“It’s like every team at the minute, every team are now doing their own thing, scurrying around and building [on how to improve performance], and I hardly think any teams are talking to each other at the minute.”
And when his team eventually turn up at the biggest bike races he thinks the squad he’s assembled is more than capable of competing with the British WorldTour outfit.
“I think from the outset yes we’re capable of taking them on. I think it’s about getting your key riders on the line in good condition, good health. I think if we’re in that situation we stand every chance of taking them on. I don’t see why not,” Ellingworth said.
But does the 47-year-old see him and his team as underdogs? No. With the Tour de France offering up a challenging parcours that lacks time trial kilometres, and a pledge to “go for it”, a philosophy that benefitted Julian Alaphilippe and Deceuninck – Quick-Step at this year’s race, Ellingworth sees his team competing for top honours.
“Certainly in next year’s Tour it’s a really challenging Tour, it’s a different race to what we’ve seen in the past. I do think we’ve got a good opportunity.
“So, do I see ourselves as underdogs? I see us as a new thriving team with lots of energy and you know we’re going to go for it. We’re not going to mess around, we’re here to try and win bike races and that’s what we love doing. So I don’t see us as an underdog, we’re competitive.”