The column: Team Ineos’s annus mediocris

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2019 has not been Team Ineos’s season. Should we see it as merely a bump in the road or an early emblem of an ebbing empire? 

Photographs: Zac Williams/SWpix.com / Offside/L'Equipe
Team Ineos

 

 

Are Ineos yesterday’s news? Is Jumbo Visma the team of today and tomorrow?


At the very least, instinctively it feels like the British outfit have performed below par in 2019.


Their spokespeople would surely deny any such claim. If your primary – and arguably only – goal is to win the Tour de France, no season in which you do just that can be considered a failure.


They might also point to the rankings. ProCyclingStats lists them as the second best team in the world over the past twelve months, behind only Deceuninck-Quick Step, whose standard is not a fair one to assess other teams by. 25 victories in 2019 puts Ineos ahead of all but five others. 


Yet filter out the non-WorldTour races and that number drops to just eight. The Vuelta isn’t over, of course, let alone the season, so that number could still increase but it’s unlikely to go up by much. Anything less than ten more wins would make it the third worst season since the team’s formation in 2010.

Michal Kwiatkowski
A rare sighting of Michal Kwiatkowski in 2019

Of course, a lot of this is a product of bad fortune. Had Bernal not broken his collarbone in early May he might well have won the Giro and left the Tour de France to Geraint Thomas (or Froome, if he had kept his hands on the bars of his TT bike). Bernal would subsequently have been free to compete strongly in – and perhaps even win – La Vuelta. All three Grand Tours ticked off in a stroke. If a butterfly flaps its wings in Kansas… 


But all that serves to highlight more than mitigate. Bernal might have saved the team’s season, with Le Tour, Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse to his name; Pavel Sivakov excited us with the way he won the Tour of the Alps, with help from Tao Geoghegan Hart (who has also thrown everything he’s had at La Vuelta). But where has everyone else been? Particularly the more seasoned professionals, such as Michał Kwiatkowski, who has been borderline invisible this season.


People aren’t really talking about Ineos. There’s no buzz, is there? They look, well, ordinary. The impression is of an organisation stagnating, resting on its laurels.

Jumbo Visma
Team of the year? And the years to come?

Jumbo Visma, in contrast, look edgy, dynamic, disruptive. They’re moving and shaking all over the place. Currently on course for a third Grand Tour podium of the year, the Dutch team has spent this season seriously challenging the assumption that teams can’t have it all. 


Nothing encapsulated that better than the way they rode on Sunday. While Sepp Kuss was up the road, middle-fiving fans on his way to victory, his team-mate Roglic, wearing the red jersey, was cementing his GC lead, stealing time on all his rivals except Alejandro Valverde. 


Read: Introducing, Slovenia’s first Tour de l’Avenir winner, Tadej Pogacar


Kuss is clearly one for the future, but so is young Laurens De Plus – who supported Kruijswijk impressively at the Tour – and Antwan Tolhoek, who took a stage of this year’s Tour de Suisse. 


The arrival of superstar Tom Dumoulin and the – arguably more significant – securing of Roglic’s services for four more years, to add to Dylan Groenwegen and Wout van Aert, suggest the present might belong to Jumbo Visma as well. 


Or it won’t. Ineos might come out all guns blazing next year. They could finally set their sights on the classics: It’s not that much of a stretch to imagine Luke Rowe going after the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad / KBK double; Thomas targeting Flanders and Moscon winning Paris-Roubaix. Would anyone bet against Carapaz retaining his Giro title with that firepower behind him? Six months is a long time in cycling.