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Comment: Richard Carapaz should lead Ineos Grenadiers at the Tour de France

While having multiple options for leadership could be a good thing, Carapaz has a strong case to be number one. Photo: Offside

Will Strickson
9 Jun 2021

Richard is an Old Frankish name that derives from words meaning ruler, leader, king and strong, brave, hardy.

Richard Carapaz is a 28-year-old cyclist for Ineos Grenadiers who is strong, brave and hardy and should be the ruler, leader and king of his team at the Tour de France later this month.

It's a strange Tour for the Grenadiers: despite reports that Geraint Thomas will be the number one choice for the General Classification, they'll be fielding three Grand Tour winners in Carapaz, Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart as well as Richie Porte, who finished third at last year's Tour behind Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič.

They also enter the race as huge underdogs, whoever is leading, with Poglič and Rogačar firm favourites to repeat their dramatic duel of 2020.

It seems, then, that we should all just admit that Ineos would be best to hold back from trying to control the race and use their weapons to attack with all their options when Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates inevitably use up their key domestiques – a theory that only gathers weight given Sepp Kuss's disappointing Dauphiné performance.

However, this won't be the case. One leader will end up on top and become the team's protected rider as the famous mountain train makes its return to the Tour.

It was clear from the Dauphiné that Geoghegan Hart will be a domestique and, while he is capable of competing if he has the strongest form, Porte said he came back to Ineos as a support rider.

That leaves Thomas and Carapaz. Both are t'riffic riders with a Grand Tour victory and second place to their name. And both haven't yet shown their best form this season, clearly hoping to peak on the biggest stage.

Carapaz to come out on top?

However, there are a few reasons why Carapaz should come out on top.

First, descending: it's not Thomas's biggest strength to begin with, especially in the wet, and with Ineos holding out as the last stalwarts of the rim brake it puts them at an immediate disadvantage on technical descents.

You only have to look at virtually every race the team have been involved in this year to see not only slower, less confident riding but also several crashes. 

Carapaz, though, has proven his descending capabilities, holding off even an in-form-and-fighting Vincenzo Nibali en route to taking the maglia rosa he would hold all the way to the finish in 2019.

Secondly, Thomas's best finishes came before Roglič and Pogačar's dominant period, with his main competitors in those two Tours being Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk. 

Not to discredit those two riders at the peak of their powers but the two Slovenians have shown to be stronger than either Dumoulin or Kruijswijk ever were.

On the other hand, Carapaz has shown that he has the capabilities of challenging Roglič. He beat him at the 2019 Giro – the same year Roglič won his first Grand Tour – and was only narrowly beaten by him at the 2020 Vuelta.

What's more, there's no doubt that the Ecuadorian would've finished the 2020 season disappointed with 'just' that Vuelta runner-up Grand Tour haul. He had initially trained to defend his Giro title before being switched to ride in support of Egan Bernal at the Tour, with Thomas getting his shot at pink instead.

With Bernal then dropping out of the Tour mid-race due to back problems, Carapaz found himself reduced to hunting the polka dot jersey (and helping Michał Kwiatkowski to a stage win) only for Pogačar to snatch it away from him in the final time-trial.

When he was then finally let loose to take on the Vuelta, he had to settle for a nonetheless impressive second. In fact he arguably outperformed Roglič, with overall victory ultimately denied by bonus seconds the Slovenian picked up on the 'easier' stages.

In 2021 Carapaz has been pretty quiet, popping up at the odd race in the early season while his team shared images of him training almost 5,000m above sea level. 

He came home ninth in La Fleche Wallonne – with Roglič only 11 seconds ahead – and is currently seventh at the Tour de Suisse with the real GC stages still to come.

The only edge you could give to Thomas is the time-trials, of which there are two in this Tour, on Stages 5 and 20.

However, given that they're both rather flat, it's highly unlikely they will produce the time gaps that the fateful Planche des Belles Filles TT produced in 2020, especially given Carapaz himself holds up well in the discipline.

I'd love Thomas to win the Tour, there is no doubt about that, however watching the continued rise of Carapaz, it seems obvious that he is the one to watch. And look at the picture at the top: Michał Kwiatkowski thinks so too.