By Sean Yates
Sean Yates is former British national champion, wearer of the yellow jersey and is now an ambassador for Ribble Bikes.
Before the 2019 Tour de France, Team Ineos were faced with a choice – backing four-time winner Chris Froome, or reigning champion Geraint Thomas.
There was discussion about who would be the leader and result was that there’d be a joint leaderships scenario, but fate intervened and Chris had his accident at the Critérium du Dauphiné, which meant G would have been the outright leader.
Meanwhile, Egan Bernal went on to win the Tour de Suisse and suddenly everyone is jumping up and down saying Bernal is going to be the leader at the Tour.
Team Ineos are now a few days into the Tour with Bernal and Thomas on equally strong footing, and whether they have a designated leader behind-the-scenes or not, we don’t really know.
For me, G is the champion, he’s shown he can do it, while Bernal is unproven as a Tour leader – he’s only ridden the race once and has never been the supported rider in a Grand Tour, having missed the Giro d’Italia due to a crash.
It’s a great advantage to have two guys who can potentially win the Tour - one who has already won it and can win it again and the guy who is the best climber in the WorldTour peloton.
I can see G playing the long game with Bernal hitting out early on – but they could then be stuck in a position where G feels strong but finds himself trailing Bernal, but isn’t allowed to chase unless someone else does.
There was a change in Team Ineos at last year’s Tour (then racing as Team Sky) - they found themselves in a tricky situation where Chris was the leader but G was better.
Froome clearly wasn’t at the top of his game but he was obviously one of the strongest there. The way they were riding, they didn’t have one defined leader, which played into Tom Dumoulin’s (Sunweb) hands.
From what I saw it was pretty fortunate that how the race panned out, with Thomas claiming his first Tour de France title.
This year they need to be more secure rather than playing too much on dual leadership - they need to put one guy further ahead.
I don’t know ultimately what their plans are, but I know Team Ineos sports director Nico Portal very well, and I know he’s a very clever guy. He will call the shots and they don’t want to be too close for comfort, because one puncture at the wrong time, or running wide on one corner on a descent, can be the difference winning and losing.
As things stand, Team Ineos have the virtual GC leader and are right where they want to be. Jumbo-Visma’s Steven Kruijswijk may be up on time, but I don’t see him troubling Bernal or G at the end of three weeks.
It’s purely a waiting game as far as Team Ineos is concerned.
With no sprinter, they need to protect their leaders and making sure they conserve every bit of energy that they can before we get to the Planche des Belles Filles on stage six, which is a tough but a relatively short club - as we saw in 2012 you can quickly eliminate a lot of riders and take a minute.
Their rivals need to put their differences aside and work together to dispatch Ineos, but it’s no small task getting guys from opposing teams to ride together to dispose of a foe.
For the French guys - Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) - it’s not ‘now or never’, but time is running out for them to put on a big show and get to the podium.
They need to put time between themselves and G, and if they do that they could upset the apple cart and we could see a great race, which is what we want as spectators.
We want to see some excitement; we want to see Ineos really on the ropes like they were in 2013.
It’s all to play for at this stage in the game and fingers crossed we’ll see some fireworks.
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