How the mighty have free-fallen.
Remember how just three or four years ago, Ineos Grenadiers were the most dominant stage race team in pro cycling?
They had seamlessly transitioned from Tour winner Bradley Wiggins to four time Tour winner Chris Froome and then, as Froome began his fade, in pedaled Egan Bernal to win his first Tour in 2019. It appeared Ineos had found another patron to boss the peloton around.
Then came Bernal’s horrific crash and his slow, grinding rehab that continues to this day as he tries to work his way back to GC star status. Froome, for his part, never regained the highest height after his own awful crash.
Meanwhile, the new kids conspired to kill off the old ruler. Jumbo Visma took over with Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic and a bunch of ketones. UAE Emirates pumped a ton of oil money into a team built around Tadej Pogacar. Suddenly, Ineos were off the back, scrapping for stage wins and hoping old man Geraint Thomas could turn back the clock and win this year’s Giro d’Italia. By golly, the geezer almost did.
There isn’t a rider on the Ineos roster that could even guarantee a top ten overall in a grand tour next season. And so, the shopping begins. Could they somehow buy out Remco Evenpoel’s contract at Soudal Quickstep? Could they entice Roglic to be the undisputed leader for Ineos at Le Tour instead of playing a bitter second fiddle at Jumbo?
It ain’t easy being rich and well-funded and yet still getting your ass kicked in Italy and France and Spain. Even Tao Geoghagen Hart has left for Lidl-Trek and a fresh start. Sure, Carlos Rodriguez had his moments is the year’s Tour but a podium seems far fetched for the near future. It’s now way past time to restock the shelves.
Like star NFL quarterbacks, it’s hard to just go to the store and pick one up a grand tour winner. They don’t make very many of them; they’re rare animals and don’t play musical chairs much. That said, money talks and if Jumbo-Visma and Soudal Quickstep merge, that over-crowded roster might be Roglic’s ticket out.
However, Pogacar and Vingegaard aren’t going anywhere. It would take several fortunes to pry young gun Juan Ayuso out of UAE Emirates. Geraint Thomas will soon be 39 and his glory days are definitely over. Only the dad jokes remain and dad doesn’t win races.
Ineos are all out of marginal gains. Professor Steve Peter’s chimp has run away. The team Jaguars and Rovers are in the garage. Even the smug, pontificating Director of Sport, David Brailsford, has gone silent, no more strategic brilliance to trumpet.
Alex Carrera, the agent for Tadej Pogacar, said Ineos inquired about the Slovenian superstar after the Tour de France. “If INEOS Grenadiers is interested in signing Tadej first, they should talk to UAE Team Emirates,” he said. “INEOS’ goal is to remain one of the best teams in the world, and then you need the best riders.” Truer words and cliches have never been spoken.
Ineos is at a loss. They desperately need something far more colossal than a marginal gain. But where will it come from?