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This Giro d’Italia showed us a new fun and exciting side to Ineos Grenadiers, fingers crossed it’s here to stay

26 Oct 2020

Tao Geoghegan Hart's Giro d'Italia success could herald a new era for the British WorldTour team

Words: Joe Robinson Photography: Chris Auld 

Sir Dave Brailsford sounded like he had just experienced an epiphany on Sunday evening. As a 25-year-old lad from Hackney by the name of Tao Geoghegan Hart slipped on the Giro d’Italia’s Maglia Rosa to become the team’s fifth Grand Tour winner in 10 years, Brailsford's words to Eurosport were those of man realising what it has really been about the whole time.

‘I came to this sport when I was a young guy because I loved racing, it attracted me to the sport as it was all about racing,’ Brailsford said to Eurosport.

‘In the past 10 years we’ve won a lot, but as you get older you wonder what it’s all about. It’s as much about the style of racing, how we go about racing and it’s about the racers. It’s about Rohan Dennis’s story, or Tao, from London, went to see Bradley when we launched Team Sky and here he is now, doing this.

‘He idolised Bradley and it kind of all connects, so my emotion is one of pure enjoyment, really, really relishing the new philosophy that the sport’s got at the minute and we’ve got to embrace that and go out and see how good we can be at racing.’

Brailsford is correct. Team Ineos Grenadiers, formerly Team Sky, have won a lot. In fact, on almost every occasion that the team put their full weight behind something, predominantly the Tour de France, it came out at the other end victorious. It has been a near-unstoppable winning machine.

But Brailsford is also correct in the words he does not say. While mighty successful, the team has been boring. The team was built and thrived off a method of using precise tactics, calculated efforts and slowly wearing down the opposition.

Team Sky won Grand Tours by consistently having the best team in the race led by the strongest rider with the entire team and staff riding and working to a strict plan of action. It was an undeniably effective strategy but it certainly left a lot to be desired for the spectator.

You cannot deny that Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal deserved their Grand Tour victories but they were hardly won in a vintage manner. In all truth, they were Grand Tour editions that would be easily forgotten if it was left down to how the race was acted out on the road.

In fact, the only other Grand Tour performance that was steeped in any kind of drama or suspense was Froome’s Giro d’Italia victory in 2018, the only other occasion in which the team found itself on the backfoot.

Yet this year’s Giro was raced by Ineos Grenadiers in a completely new fashion. Reacting to the team’s leader and race favourite Thomas going home, injured after just three stages, the team tore up the playbook and tried something new.

Low and behold, three weeks later, the team leave Milan with the Maglia Rosa, Maglia Bianca, the team classification and seven stage victories: statistically the team’s best-ever Grand Tour.

The thing is, the way in which the Ineos Grenadiers raced this Giro was actually textbook of how bike racing has been won all season long. Taking the initiative, riding on the front foot, attacking whenever and wherever possible.

Geoghegan Hart was not the strongest rider in this race. He was the smartest and the bravest, however. Willing to realise that at three minutes adrift of pink in the final week, there was still a chance it could all change.

Fronting up on the run to Piancavallo. Committing on the Passo dello Stelvio. Rolling the dice to Sestiere. He rode on the front foot and was rewarded for doing so.

By his side was the outstanding Rohan Dennis. If the third week of this race was its own contest, he would be walking away as man of the match. It was his composure, experience and, most importantly, raw power that made Geoghegan Hart’s victory possible.

You had the rampant Filippo Ganna who was all-conquering during his three-week lap of Italy. Quite clearly the best time-triallist in the world right now and possibly en route to becoming the greatest at that discipline ever, he took all three stages against the clock with ease. But beyond that, he also buccaneered to a road victory in the low mountains, proving himself as much more than a one-trick pony.

Jhonatan Narváez was a wiley character and deserving of his stage victory before crashing out on Stage 14. British champion Ben Swift was a breath of fresh air, animating the race on its rolling days. Jonathan Castroviejo fought hard in the first week and even Salvatore Puccio flexed his muscles in multiple breakaways.

Not until the penultimate day to Sestriere did we see the infamous mountain train and throughout the entire 21 stages, Ineos showed a panache-laced style of riding on the front foot that we have never seen from a Brailsford-backed side before. And with this, it seems as if Brailsford has seemingly seen the light, that this new racing mantra could be the future of how they conduct themselves.

After a lacklustre Tour de France, Brailsford admitted that in his team’s continuous success, they had inadvertently stood still, finding themselves overtaken by others, namely Jumbo-Visma. In response, Brailsford flexed his financial muscles announcing the signings of Laurens de Plus, Dani Martinez, Richie Porte and Tom Pidcock shortly after unveiling Adam Yates.

Employing such a weighty quintet of reinforcements to a squad that already contains Geriant Thomas, Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Pavel Sivakov, Michal Kwiatkowski, Rohan Dennis and so on and so on suggests the former tactic of a surgically precise bludgeoning.

It would be easy to revert back to type. The mechanical mountain train of watt robots slowly strangling the life from its rivals.

But it feels like racing has moved beyond that now. With the current wave of youthful super-talent proving that nothing is impossible and that winning is now just as much about confidence, belief and ambition as it is raw power, and it feels like Braislford understands this.

Honestly, it feels as if we are entering a new, exciting era for Ineos Grenadiers in which some of the world’s best cyclists will now be allowed off the leash, to express themselves and ultimately entertain as well as win.

So with the question of how they will race answered, the only remaining conundrum is who from that star-studded roster will lead it all.