They may have a new name and kit and be missing some notable Tour de France stalwarts, but Ineos Grenadiers road captain Luke Rowe insists that the British team is unchanged with regard to its Tour focus and prospects. “If we stick to our game plan, there’s no reason we can’t win the race,” said Rowe on the eve of the Grand Départ in Nice.
“We can talk about other teams, but we’ve always had confidence in what we do,” he added, highlighting the experience within Ineos’s ranks as well as the presence of Tour champion Egan Bernal. “We’ve got a job to do, so heads down and crack on.”
Rowe acknowledged that he has been impressed by the performances produced by rivals Jumbo-Visma over the past few weeks. However, rather than being intimidated by the Dutch squad’s recent dominance, he says he’s relishing the chance to take them on and eager for the contest this could produce.
“It’s been impressive, they’ve come out swinging. It’s exciting and can only lead to an exciting three weeks,” he said, adding that Jumbo’s emergence as the strongest team in the peloton could work to Ineos’s advantage by taking the pressure off them to control the racing. “They’ve got the clear favourite in [Primož] Roglič. They’ve got to put their noses in the wind. If you want to win the race you’ve got to pull and that could be beneficial for us,” he said.
Yet he stressed that the race is by no means a two-team contest. “What we’ve got to be careful of is that it’s not Ineos versus Jumbo. It was portrayed like that at the Dauphiné but in the end the podium didn’t have an Ineos or Jumbo rider on it,” he said.
Asked whether he expected the racing to be as relentlessly intense at the Tour as it was during the Dauphiné, the Welshman responded: “You can’t race 21 days like they did at the Dauphiné. If you start out like that then you’re going to come unstuck in the third week because the third week is brutal. Some of those days are the toughest I’ve ever seen.
“The other thing to remember about the Dauphiné was that all five days were tough and the selections were made up of seven out-and-out climbers pretty much. Every team sent a crowd of goats. At the Tour we’ll see more rounded teams. It won’t be 22 teams that are just completely at home in the mountains. There’ll be bigger guys, the Classics riders and sprinters, and they often bring a lot of control to racing, they calm the race down a bit.”
Rowe admitted, though, that the lay-off from racing due to the coronavirus lockdown could result in some surprises in week three. “I think the only difference this year could be when we go into third week and it becomes apparent that some riders have overtrained or undertrained,” explained the Welshman. “But it’s still the Tour de France. If you go out balls to the wall in the first week, you’ll pay for it in the third. At the same time, you can’t just think of the third week, you’ve got to nail the first two first.”