The Tour de France 2019 is here and all eyes are fixed on defending squad Team Ineos, as they look to add another Grand Tour to their ever-growing tally.
Sir Dave Brailsford’s team return as the outright favourites, having won six of the last seven editions with three different riders.
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Last year, the long-serving Geraint Thomas took his first ever Grand Tour victory when he rode to a surprise win in France.
His four-time Tour winning team-mate Chris Froome finished on the podium, having won the Giro d’Italia just weeks earlier.
But disaster struck the squad a month before the start of this year’s race, when Chris Froome suffered horrific injuries in a crash during a recon of the time trial stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Having suffered multiple fractures, including his femur, elbow and ribs, Froome will not start the Tour this year, which leaves the race more open than we might have expected.
Here are the eight riders the British team have at the Tour de France 2019.
Team Ineos find themselves in an unusual situation this Tour de France as they have lost their race favourite leader Froome, but they still have two riders strong enough to take the yellow jersey in Paris.
Froome was of course the bookmakers’ favourite, as he looked for a record-equalling fifth Tour victory, but Geraint Thomas will return to the Tour with number one on his back after his 2018 victory.
After a handful of promising performances this year, including a podium finish at the Tour de Romandie, Thomas’s winning experience and motivation for a strong showing make him one of the main leaders of the team.
The Welshman will be keen to prove his talents once more in France and repeat his first Grand Tour win despite crashing out of the Tour de Suisse, thankfully he didn’t pick up any lasting injuries.
Thomas was always guaranteed a spot in the squad, even based purely on his abilities as a support rider and back-up general classification contender, but after last year’s win he now becomes one of the race favourites.
The other Ineos rider believed to have the capability of winning a three-week race is young Colombian star Egan Bernal. Tipped as a future Grand Tour winner and have wasted no time in giving him opportunities to prove his potential.
Having won Paris-Nice this season, Bernal was due to be given his first leadership responsibilities in only his second Grand Tour at the 2019 Giro d’Italia but suffered a broken collarbone during a training crash on the eve of the race.
After Thomas crashed out of the Tour de Suisse, team leadership responsibilities where handed over to Bernal, who promptly won the race.
This victory is a main reason for Ineos giving Bernal equal billing in France, making him co-leader of the team alongside Thomas.
Much of Ineos’s dominance in the Tour de France has come down to their wealth of talent in the high mountains, where they are regularly the squad with the most riders remaining at the head of field.
With two potential leaders, there are only two riders to take on the key support roles on the steeper gradients – Polish champion Michał Kwiatkowski and Wout Poels.
While Kwiatkowski sees himself as a future Grand Tour winner, his Tour de France role will be mountain domestique duties.
The Milan-San Remo winner and former world champion has often been seen emptying himself completely on mountain stages in support of Froome.
After an uncharacteristically quiet first half of the season, Kwiatkowski rode with Froome at the Critérium du Dauphiné, making a strong showing.
Another Dauphiné rider who is one of the first names on the Ineos squad for the Tour is Dutchman Wout Poels, who rode brilliantly in France to a stage victory and fourth place overall.
With 12 Grand Tours to his name, the 31-year-old is an experienced domestique and has plenty of wins on his palmarès to prove his strength.
Helpers on the flat
While mountain domestiques are key to a Grand Tour squad, you also need strong riders to control the race on the flats.
Team Ineos have always picked powerful and experienced riders for the flats and this year they have a few options.
Luke Rowe is the British squad’s experienced road captain, always a strong rider and with tactical nous to decimate a race in the crosswinds.
Rowe rode the Tour de Suisse to get one more race in his legs before the Tour and Jonathan Castroviejo has also made the selection and is another powerful option for the squad, possessing a strong time trial pedigree.
With a team time trial on stage two, the Spaniard’s testing will be a major asset that can then be transferred to the flats.
Castroviejo also climbs well which means he can be a factor later into mountain stages, particularly on the valley roads between the ascents.
Dutchman Dylan van Baarle will also make the trip to France for the Tour, having ridden with Ineos in their major pre-Tour tests including the Dauphiné and the Tour de Romandie.
Van Baarle’s strong sprint also make him a candidate for stage wins if Ineos find themselves chasing a result.
Gianni Moscon has ridden the Dauphiné but has struggled for form this season after a crash in the UAE Tour that left him concussed but also makes the team.
Moscon has also been a controversial figure in the peloton, being disqualified from last year’s Tour for punching Fortuneo-Samsic rider Elie Gesbert.
While he wasn’t likely to be first pick for the squad, Moscon was bumped up to a likely candidate after the loss of Chris Froome that left the door open for a strong all-rounder like the Italian.