What’s going on with the Ineos Grenadiers?

What’s going on with the Ineos Grenadiers?

Something is afoot at the Ineos Grenadiers. Big-name riders are leaving and a number of sports directors are moving on against the backdrop of the team not winning a Grand Tour for the first time since 2014, the only two times this has happened in their history.

A victim of their own success no doubt, and a €50 million budget, the biggest in the WorldTour, also buys you an unwanted level of scrutiny that no other squad has to face.

The team’s owner Jim Ratcliffe doesn’t seem the sort to accept mediocrity, you would imagine the same goes for most billionaires, and although Egan Bernal won the Tour de France within a few months of buying the team, two Giro d’Italia titles and Paris-Roubaix since then are hardly going to cut it. You don’t purchase one of cycling’s super teams to be satisfied with dominating one-week stage races.

How to fix this? VeloNews’ story that Dave Brailsford asked Patrick Lefevere whether Remco Evenepoel’s services could be available for the right price has dominated cycling’s news cycle for the past 24 hours. Above all, what this reveals is that Ineos don’t expect to be winning the Tour de France with their current roster anytime soon, something that will only further frustrate Ratcliffe.

Let’s start with the riders who are departing at the end of the year. Richard Carapaz leaves for EF Education EasyPost, the Ecuadorian being one of if not the most consistent Grand Tour rider for the British team since joining in 2020, taking podium spots at each of the three Grand Tours. But more troubling is the departure of Adam Yates to UAE Team Emirates and Dylan van Baarle to Jumbo-Visma, the teams Ineos compete directly with.

Obviously, salary will always be a factor and Ineos still have a budget to balance no matter how large it is. UAE Team Emirates likely made a lucrative offer to Yates as UAE Team Emirates build a squad to match the talents of Pogačar, while Van Baarle’s transfer could also be explained by a desire to ride for a team that shares his nationality. But losing some of your top guys in the prime of their careers is rarely a good sign, especially when your loss is your rivals’ gain.

Then we have movement in the backroom. Sports directors Servais Knaven, Gabriel Rasch and Brett Lancaster are out, former Ineos rider Ian Stannard comes in, while Quick-Step’s Davide Bramati has publicly pushed back on links between him and the British squad. Other personnel changes include the loss of long-term press officer George Solomon, a figure who was well-liked and respected by senior riders in the team, with Ratcliffe’s son Sam brought in as Head of Communications.

And what of Dave Brailsford? What is his continued level of involvement, aside from sending texts to Patrick Lefevere. Brailsford was made Director of Sport at Ineos in December last year, overseeing all of Ratcliffe’s sporting enterprises, not just cycling. His temporary arrival at OGC Nice, the French Ligue 1 football club owned by Ratcliffe, in the spring could potentially become a permanent role as general director. Rod Ellingworth has been brought back into the fold after a short sojourn with Bahrain-Victorious and is in a more central, senior position in light of Brailsford’s absence. There is also still the factor of the terrible loss of Nicolas Portal in 2020, which is undoubtedly still felt within the squad and something that transcends any sporting concerns. Nevertheless, it has left a hole in the team that was always going to be difficult if not impossible to fill.

Is a shift in management and in who’s doing the managing going to be enough to overhaul UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma, specifically Tadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard, even Primož Roglič? To do that, you need a rider who can beat them out on the road.

For all of the major stage race victories Ineos Grenadiers have taken these past three years, they have only won one that either Tadej Pogačar or Primož Roglič has lined up for – this year’s Tour of the Basque Country. When the new big boys come to town, the British squad rarely stand a chance.

Ineos, like everyone else, are investing heavily in youth. The likes of Carlos Rodriguez, and Leo Hayter show promise but aren’t oven-ready to go toe-to-toe with the best, and the Spaniard could soon be tempted away by a bank-breaking offer from Movistar who need to fill the void opened up by Alejandro Valverde’s retirement. The incoming Thymen Arensman could also continue to flourish into an exceptional rider. Meanwhile, Tom Pidcock would appear to be Ineos’ next homegrown hope for Grand Tours but isn’t ready to give up his off-road competition for the monastic lifestyle of GC riders.

So what to do? Geraint Thomas was vindicated by his third place at the Tour having felt written off by management who began looking elsewhere for the rider to take the fight to UAE and Jumbo, but the Welshman’s determination and class shone through. While that’s an excellent result for him, what does it say about the rest of the squad? That 36-year-old Thomas, who acknowledges that his time in the peloton will soon come to an end, is still the best they’ve got? This is particularly concerning for the team given doubts over whether Egan Bernal will ever rediscover his previous best form following serious injury.

Despite Thomas’ doggedness, it was glaringly evident this summer how far off the pace everyone else to Pogačar and Roglič’s successor Vingegaard. Previously, Bradley Wiggins’ advice to his old team on how to win the Tour de France was to sign Tadej Pogačar and send him to the Giro. Really, Ineos’ interest in Remco Evenepoel is not that far from that advice. Use the one advantage you still have over the other squads in the peloton: money.

Enter, Remco Evenepoel.

The 22-year-old is coming off a season where he won his first Monument, first Grand Tour and first rainbow jersey. As he takes these next steps in delivering on the hype that has already surrounded him for years, his appetite for more wins and accompanying compensation will only grow. Can Patrick Lefevere’s Quick-Step squad 1) accommodate the pay-scale of a Grand Tour-winning world champion and 2) provide the sort of squad to support a Tour de France contender?

Pogačar’s contract seems watertight. A competitor would need to buy out the remainder of his contract (€5 million a year for five years) and then better it (another €5 million+ a year for five years). The financials of Remco Evenepoel’s deal are less well known, but Quick-Step are known to pay a lower base salary in heavily incentivised contracts. Het Laatste Nieuws reports that Julian Alaphilippe is still the top earner on the Belgian team at €2.3 million a year, so buying out Evenepoel’s four-year-contract is still expensive but more affordable, even when a more lucrative contract needs to be offered to the rider. The other complication is that Lefevere’s deals with headline sponsors Quick-Step and Soudal are partly predicated on Evenepoel’s presence.

Speaking to Het Nieuwsblad, Patrick Lefevere has said there is a zero per cent chance that Evenepoel leaves for Ineos, and that he’s received phone calls since the rumours began from Remco and his father Patrick Evenepoel reassuring the team boss that they’re going nowhere.

Maybe it’s a question of both the patience of Jim Ratcliffe and how much he wants to win the Tour de France followed by the question as to how highly Patrick Lefevere values a rider he’s helped deliver to Grand Tour and rainbow jersey glory.

Something will have to change and it’s not as simple as to say that the Ineos Grenadiers are in rebuild mode. There isn’t much to rebuild if your roster doesn’t contain any of the top five Grand Tour riders currently in the peloton. And with contracts getting longer as teams lock down their top riders, talent is becoming harder and more costly to come by.

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