With Chris Froome on the mend and 22-year-old Egan Bernal deserving a break after winning the Tour de France, who will Team Ineos field in its eight-man roster for the upcoming 2019 Vuelta a España?
The Spanish Grand Tour starts on August 24 in Salinas de Torrevieja and runs through to September 15, ending in Madrid.
Last year, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) won the overall, continuing a British run after Froome’s 2017 Vuelta victory.
Team Ineos boss Sir David Brailsford, who just finished toasting a seventh Tour title in Paris, will now look to his Vuelta squad, and the selection will be difficult with Geraint Thomas, Pavel Sivakov and even perhaps Bernal in the running.
Bernal appears unlikely to race however, having just won the Tour at 22 years old. The Vuelta may be an excessive workload for a still-emerging talent. If he were racing, he would likely not be participating in all the post-Tour criteriums and the Clásica San Sebastián.
Geraint Thomas posted more Instagram photographs of burgers and beers than cols and bikes in the last days. But after the post-Tour parties pass, Brailsford could decide that the Vuelta a España would be the best possible late-summer programme for the 2018 Tour champion. It would help make up for a Tour de France after Thomas admitted his was disappointed to miss out on victory to his team-mate.
Thomas would give Ineos a bonafide leader in its first Vuelta since Sir Jim Ratcliffe began bank-rolling the team. The race suits him with a mix of mountains and time trials, starting with a team time trial and a 36.1km individual one midway in. If possible, he could match Froome’s success from 2017 and race the Yorkshire Worlds afterwards with the Yates twins.
Russian Pavel Sivakov rode to ninth overall in the 2019 Giro d’Italia, won by Richard Carapaz (Movistar). He would give Brailsford a plan B alongside Thomas or potentially a plan A if Brailsford goes for a youth team and leaves Thomas at home.
Sivakov won the Tour of the Alps this spring before leading Ineos in the Giro. Bernal had been selected to captain the Giro team, but pulled out beforehand due to a broken collarbone. Like with Bernal, though, riding two Grand Tours at such a high level in one season may put too much demand on 22-year-old Sivakov. Brailsford could just to leave him at home or at least protect him with Thomas as Ineos’s plan A.
Tao Geoghegan Hart
Tao Geoghegan Hart appears likely to get the nod to fill out the Ineos eight-man roster. He too is young, just 24, but due to a crash which left him with a broken collarbone, abandoned Giro d’Italia on stage 13. Without the full Giro in his legs and plenty of recovery time, the Londoner will be ready for the Vuelta. This week, he is racing the Tour of Poland as his first race back with an eye on Spain.
He made his Grand Tour debut in the Vuelta last year alongside Sivakov. He gained experience while riding to support Michał Kwiatkowski.
Ben Swift would bring firepower to the team for the few sprints on offer. He is debuting his new British Championship jersey this week in the Tour of Poland where he will be preparing for the possible Vuelta a España call up.
Swift has been knocking on the door of a Grand Tour stage win for years. In the 2012 Vuelta and the 2014 Giro, he came the closest by finishing second. If Thomas leads the team, Swift could also be counted on pull the Ineos train over the Spanish plains.
The 31-year-old could also be Britain’s best hope of winning the World Championships in Yorkshire next month and the Vuelta would be welcome preparation for that goal.
Vasil Kiryienka is back and strong after a cardiac anomaly earlier in the year. He may be older at 38 but can reliably shepherd the Ineos riders through Spain and in the early phases of the mountain passes.
This week, the former time trial world champion is racing in the Tour of Poland with other possible Vuelta candidates. Italian Salvatore Puccio is there too. He is one possibility if Brailsford overlooks Kiryienka. Puccio too could be a key rouleur for any potential Ineos bid at the 2019 Vuelta overall.
David De La Cruz
David De La Cruz led Sky to 15th overall in its last Grand Tour, the 2018 Vuelta. If Ineos wants a shot at winning its first Vuelta under new ownership, then it will need mountain firepower like De La Cruz.
The Spaniard is training around his home base of Andorra now and will race the Vuelta a Burgos to prepare for the Vuelta. He has proven himself in his home Grand Tour, riding to 15th in 2018 and seventh in 2016.
Diego Rosa should slot in to the team’s mountain arsenal for the Vuelta. The race, like most recent years, features plenty of uphill kilometres where climbers like the Italian will be needed to protect the leader.
Brailsford’s concern is selecting the right support crew after seeing his proven helpers Gianni Moscon and Michał Kwiatkowski fall short in the Tour de France. Thankfully, Ineos’s roster is deep with men like Dylan Van Baarle who rose to the occasion to fill their shoes in France. With Moscon and Kwiatkowski not racing, Rosa will be needed along with others like De La Cruz and Jonathan Castroviejo.
Spaniard Jonathan Castroviejo, at 32, should be able to ride his first Tour/Vuelta double. This year along with Van Baarle, he consistently led Ineos through the Tour’s mountains.
The team has him riding some criteriums with Bernal, but mostly recovering to be ready for the Vuelta. He will skip the European Championships. He is scheduled only to race the Clásica San Sebastián as he builds back towards another Grand Tour in 2019.
Frenchman Kenny Elissonde could be substituted in for Castroviejo, Rosa or De La Cruz if one is not ready in time for the Vuelta by August 24. It would be one of Elissonde’s last races at Ineos as he is set to leave the team.