On the slopes of Mount Etna on stage four of the Giro d'Italia, if you squinted, it was like travelling back in time.
Ineos Grenadiers were massing on the front of the peloton, burning through domestiques, just as they used to during the Chris Froome years, controlling the pace. It was like Richie Porte had just reacted to muscle memory of riding for Team Sky at the Tour de France from 2012 to 2015.
The kit hasn't changed that much, with the accents now red rather than blue, and sure, the name and the riders have changed, but it was the same old tactics.
Except on this occasion, it didn't really seem for much gain. The stage win and control of the pink jersey had already gone up the road with the break, and none of these riders are particularly threatening in terms of the overall picture.
It was only day four of the whole race, and clearly none of the other general classification contenders fancied fireworks, so why bother? The reduced peloton could have just agreed a truce, as they did when the Giro last tackled Etna.
They might have distanced Tom Dumoulin, Tobias Foss and Vincenzo Nibali, but these three did not look in the right form to keep the pace with that front group even if Ineos had not taken control.
Anyway, the British squad also ended up dropping one of their own GC options in Pavel Sivakov, who went into the day 37 seconds behind Simon Yates and ended Tuesday 1:32 behind.
The stage ended with Richard Carapaz sprinting for the line, but failing to get a gap on any of the big GC favourites, so it did not amount to anything much.
It is easy to criticise a plan when it does not work; on another day maybe the train would have blown the race apart. It just seemed like a puzzling choice so early in the race, and a departure from the exciting racing Ineos have been known for this season.
Speaking to the media after the stage, Porte said it wasn't even the team's plan for stage four, which made it all the more mystifying.
“We did what we had to do. It wasn’t actually the plan to do that today. Richard is obviously in good nick and it’s good to see,” the Australian said. “We knew that in the final I think we can confidence and we all did our best. It’s a good sign.
“To be fair, we were a bit unlucky because [Ben] Tulett had a mechanical, and he’s been impressive these last days. He would have been handy to have. It’s a good day. Carapaz is going really well, and we shook it up a bit. So that’s good to see.”
Was it a good day though? That is less clear. Porte and Carapaz are still up there on GC, and the latter showed his speed at the end, but then they appeared to put themselves in difficulty.
“We wanted to make the race hard today and we saw that some of the rivals were cut off, so it’s a good sign,” Carapaz said. “We came here with the intention of winning and that’s what we’re looking to do over the next three weeks. It’s a good start.”
Porte was not particularly shocked at Dumoulin losing time, but hinted that his team are looking at threats from elsewhere in the peloton.
“Surprise? Tom hasn’t had a straight forward run into it. If he’s dropped he’ll be going for stages and he’s a big champion,” Porte said. “Romain Bardet, I think he’s the dark horse here. He’s looking great.”
As for Ineos, it will be interesting to see if they continue with their retro tactics over the three weeks or they try something else. They will hope their plan works next time.
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