Was Rod Ellingworth really the problem at Ineos Grenadiers?

The team remain in a state of rebuilding flux as they head into 2024. Whether that progresses is no longer up to Ellingworth

Rod Ellingworth (left) and Sir Dave Brailsford at the 2021 Tour de France
(Image credit: Getty)

Good morning, and welcome back to The Leadout, and your weekly dose of analysis of the world of cycling from me, Adam Becket. If you want to get in touch, email me at adam.becket@futurenet.com.

Talking to people involved in the Ineos Grenadiers project over the last two seasons, it has been clear that the team was in a regenerative phase. The once dominant cycling squad is trying to get back to the top, but in a sustainable and sensible manner. 

There is usually a recognition that there’s no panacea to the issues that face it, no magic bullet. There’s also no panic, despite ongoing press and fan criticism.

The truth is that the team lack one of the generational general classification talents that are at other teams at the moment; they don’t have Tadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard, Remco Evenepoel or Primož Roglič. They have Geraint Thomas, closing in on retirement, and Egan Bernal still on the way back from injury, and the largely unproven Tom Pidcock and Carlos Rodríguez.

The message of rebuilding was one that Rod Ellingworth has repeated time and again, but it now appears that either higher ups at Ineos Sport no longer have faith in him to carry out that plan, or perhaps Ellingworth had no belief in the role he was to have in a rejigged set up. His departure, confirmed last Friday, confirms the team remain in a state of flux.

The news of Ellingworth’s resignation appeared to come as a surprise to the team, who were left scrambling to confirm or deny the news last Friday. It was over eight hours after The Telegraph broke the story that a simple ‘yes but no further comment’ reached the press - this clearly hadn’t been planned upon.

Since the 2021 Giro d’Italia, won by Bernal, the eight Grand Tours have been won by Jumbo-Visma (Roglič twice, Vingegaard twice, Kuss once), UAE Team Emirates (Pogačar once), Soudal Quick-Step (Evenepoel once), and Bora-Hansgrohe (Jai Hindley once). Ineos have hardly been out of it, they have finished on the podium four times through Thomas (twice) and the now departed Richard Carapaz (twice). 

They were also the fourth best team in the world in 2023, but are one of those star riders, one of those big four, away from grand tour victory. With a big strategic review with the team understood to be taking place, the issue at the core of the team’s problems is the lack of one of those generational talents, someone to replace Chris Froome or even Geraint Thomas.

While their big rivals Jumbo and UAE have picked well, chosen the right riders, they have either missed out or had misfortune strike (in the case of Egan Bernal and his injuries and then crash). Behind Pogačar, UAE have Juan Ayuso and 2023 Tour de l'Avenir champion Isaac del Toro as stars of the future, while Jumbo have the promising Brit Thomas Gloag, and 2023 Baby Giro winner Johannes Staune-Mittet behind Vingegaard. 

Ineos might have young talents like Carlos Rodríguez and AJ August, but the point is that Jumbo and UAE have balanced talents for the future with winning talents for now. Whoever is going to come into Ineos now has the difficult task of managing demands for immediate performance while also building for the future.

In Ellingworth, the team had at its core a person with a track record in building riders and organisations from the ground up. Amid the ongoing strategic review he has now left, in a turbulent time which has also seen the likes of sports directors Roger Hammond and Matteo Tosatto and head of performance support Ben Williams depart from the staff.

Because his departure comes amid a period of underwhelming results it's natural to assume it’s performance related but right now we simply do not know if Ellingworth was the problem at Ineos. Or even if Ineos Sport’s bosses think that was the case. No matter who is in charge it could take years for Ineos Grenadiers to challenge at the pointy end of the Tour de France again, the only race that, ultimately, matters to their reputation. 

If the team continues to perform below its historic best, then the fault will not lie with the 51-year-old, but with Sir Dave Brailsford and Ineos Sport. The clock is ticking.

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