Team Ineos boss Sir Dave Brailsford has said “the strongest rider is always the leader” ahead of the Tour de France 2019, with the British squad expected to include two previous champions in Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.
“We will [all] be sitting together in the coming weeks to determine our strategy. Froome and Thomas have the experience of how it all works,” said Brailsford, speaking to Dutch television network Sporza. “As long as the roles are clear and clear decisions are made, our team will function well.
“The most important thing is that the riders trust each other.”
Having two past winners would make you confident heading into any race. Brailsford is further encouraged, however, by also having a fully fit and fresh mountain domestique in Egan Bernal at the Tour de France, after the Colombian was ruled out of the Giro d’Italia 2019 days before the start after breaking his collarbone in a training ride crash. Brailsford said: “It gives us more options”.
The 22-year-old finished 15th in last year’s Tour, despite working for Geraint Thomas, helping him win his first ever Grand Tour.
There couldn’t be a greater contrast in the debate over team leadership responsibilities between Ineos’ squads at this year’s Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. After Bernal’s crash, the British team took no strong prospect for the overall classification to Italy, a rare occurrence for an outfit that has won six of the last 13 Grand Tours.
“For Tao Geoghegan Hart and the other young Ineos riders, this Giro was the ideal opportunity to discover their potential. It rarely happens that we start a Grand Tour without a great leader.”
Brailsford specifically praised Pavel Sivakov, the young Russian who won the overall classification at the Tour of the Alps prior to a Giro that saw him finish ninth on GC as well as second in the young rider classification to Miguel Ángel López (Astana).
“He exceeds expectations and is doing great,” Brailsford said. “He is here [at the Giro] to learn how you can perform for three weeks.”
Despite the young crop of talent being developed in the team, Brailsford realises he does have an ageing group of key lieutenants who aren’t getting any younger.
While he doesn’t highlight anyone in particular, Christian Knees is 38, Vasil Kiryienka is 37, Michał Gołaś is 35 and even Froome and Thomas are 34 and 33, respectively.
“At Ineos we currently have a group of top riders who are 33 to 34 years old. And with Egan and Pavel we also have a group of good young rider. In between we have riders who are coming into their twilight years. It is difficult.”
The British coach has highlighted one type of rider he would like to recruit in the coming years: “I would like to have a Belgian rider on the team. Victor Campenaerts (Lotto-Soudal) is an interesting rider. But he is not the only Belgian on the market with an expiring contract”.