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Comment: Ineos’s ‘poor’ form is a Brailsford ruse and they could still occupy all three steps of the Tour podium

Jack Elton-Walters
16 Aug 2020

The Dauphine won't necessarily predict the Tour in a strange year for professional cycling

As the group of favourites rolled over the summit of the Col de Peyresourde, 15.5km of mostly downhill separated them from the finish line on Stage 8 of the 2016 Tour de France. The yellow jersey of Greg Van Avermaet was a long way back meaning a new race leader would come from this group.

Best placed was Adam Yates, with an advantage of between one and 18 seconds over the remainder of the top 20. In all likelihood, the GC group would cross the line as one and as long as the boy from Bury was in the top three he would be clad in yellow.

However, Chris Froome – seven seconds down on Yates at the start of the day – had a different outcome in mind. He forged on over the top and pushed further ahead on the descent.

Employing a ridiculous position where he was sat on the top tube and continued to pedal, later shown to be aerodynamic nonsense by Chris Boardman and his wind tunnel, Froome crossed the line 13 seconds clear to go into the yellow jersey by a margin of 16 seconds, thanks to the finish line bonus.

He stayed in yellow until Paris to record his third overall Tour victory.

A daring attack on a descent and capturing the yellow jersey: you'd think Froome would be the most pleased with himself that evening, but the ear-to-ear grin on Sir Dave Brailsford suggested he was taking even more pleasure in the result.

The team manager has never appeared more happy than when questioned about the attack – and the descending technique – after the stage. He revelled in his perception of other people's surprise at Team Sky (as they were then) winning solo on a downhill rather than riding in metronomic formation to a summit finish.

'You didn't see that coming, did you?'

Now imagine how happy Brailsford, the brains behind marginal gains and grey areas, would be if his three team leaders occupied all three steps of the podium at the end of the upcoming Tour de France. It seems unlikely, impossible even, but then maybe that's all part of the plan.

At the end of the 2020 Criterium du Dauphine, this is how the three Team Ineos leaders fared: Geraint Thomas – 37th, 53:38 behind the winner; Chris Froome – 71st, 1:27:42; Egan Bernal – DNF, back injury.

With caveats around Froome and Thomas working for Bernal, it's worth noting that Jumbo-Visma's Tom Dumoulin (7th, 2:07) and Sepp Kuss (10th, 2:55) worked for Primoz Roglic on the first four stages of the five-day race.

Rather than talking about which rider will lead Team Ineos (Bernal probably, if his back is sorted), we are instead wondering what's going on with cycling's hitherto superteam.

Favourite status, and the pressure that comes with it, has moved to Jumbo-Visma. That team is in top form already (though some wonder if it's too soon) and won three of the five stages at the Dauphine. They would likely have sealed the overall had Roglic not taken a tumble and withdrawn as a precaution ahead of the Tour.

Taking the start line in Nice on Saturday 29th August, Jumbo-Visma look set to have two Grand Tour winners, another Grand Tour podium finisher, a Monument winner in the form of his life and domestiques near the calibre of when Froome rode for Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Team Ineos on the other hand will come in with few victories, question marks over form, bigger questions over whether certain riders will work for teammates and many wondering if the bubble has burst.

But behind it all will still be the same team principal who was laughed at for predicting a British Tour de France winner within five years of the team's formation but has since answered those jeers with victories at 10 Grand Tours, including seven of the last eight Tours de France, and this year he might just be relishing the novelty of being the underdog.

Expect to see Team Ineos's chief far more pleased about winning after being written off than he was all the times his riders won when they were expected to.

Remember Froome's descent and stage win? Brailsford relished everyone's surprise more than he appeared to enjoy Froome moving into yellow. The race favourite and defending champion is expected to take and defend yellow, but most would have picked a summit or time-trial as the stage he'd rise to the top.

Now wait and see what happens when a slow-build at the Dauphine, after months of no racing and little insight into what his riders are really capable of, leads to domination on a scale not seen since, well, all the other times Team Sky/Ineos put multiple riders on Grand Tour podiums.