Ineos Sidelines Froome and Thomas, Ranking Tour GC Contenders and Lombardia Race notes

Ineos reshuffles Their Tour lineup and leaves stars at home, Jumbo-Visma dominates without Roglic, and breaking down Fuglsang's Lombardia win

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Ineos’ New-Look Tour Team

The main news of the week is that Ineos has left Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome off their Tour de France team, and hit the button behind the “break glass in case of emergency” case to pull Richard Carapaz out of his Giro prep to co-lead the Tour with Bernal (or just lead if Bernal’s back isn’t okay). I’ve been against Ineos’ stated plan of taking Froome, Thomas, and Egan Bernal to the Tour, especially as it has become clear that not only are Thomas and Froome not in Tour-winning form, they aren’t in good enough form to perform domestique duties. Froome’s horrible crash last year gives him an excuse for being so off the pace, but what is going on with Thomas? How could the winner and second-place finisher in the last two Tour’s have found himself so unfit two weeks prior to the big race?

Carapaz didn’t appear to be in the best form at last weekend’s Giro di Lombardia, but with Pavel Sivakov, Egan Bernal, and Carapaz and a suite of strong support riders like Dylan van Baarle, at least Ineos has a shot of putting together a winning ride.

Dauphine Leaves us With Fewer Tour de France Contenders

The major Tour de France tune-up race, the Criterium du Dauphine, wrapped last weekend and we were treated to exciting racing, terrible crashes, and an utterly confusing Tour de France picture.

Jumbo-Visma and Primoz Roglic absolutely dominated the first four stages of the tune-up race. With the winner of the Dauphine going on to win the Tour de France five out of the last eight years and this year’s edition a week closer to the Tour de France, things were looking great for the Roglic and the Jumbo bumblebees. A crash on stage 4 took out key domestique Steven Kruijswijk with a dislocated shoulder and took down Roglic. While the Slovenian got back up and defended his overall lead, he didn’t start stage 5. These crushing losses didn’t appear to phase Jumbo, as the team ripped the race apart the next day and Sepp Kuss transformed from worker to race winner. The American now looks like the strongest climber in the world heading into a climb-heavy TdF that features only 36km of TT-ing, with 6km of that a steep finishing climb. Meanwhile, Tom Dumoulin rode away from race leader Thibault Pinot a few kilometers before the finish, showing sparkling form after 18-months away from racing and signaling he’d be a great second option for Jumbo if Roglic either can’t be at his best due to injuries sustained in his crash or falters in the third week a la Giro d’Italia 2019.

Meanwhile, Team Ineos looked horrible. After taking a beating on stage 1, they assembled the patented mountain train for stage 2, leading the peloton into the final summit finish.

Unfortunately, the wheels of their once-invincible train fell off shortly after and Bernal was isolated 2.5km from the finish line. Froome fell off the pace before he was able to take a pull and Thomas couldn’t even manage a kilometer on the front, which absolutely killed the team’s workload timing. These performances likely sealed their non-selections for the upcoming Tour de France. Bernal attempted to an attack with slightly under 2km remaining but was immediately pegged-back by Kuss and then KO’d by Roglic’s blistering attack with 1km to go.

It was shocking to see the leader of such a strong team isolated at the pointy end of a mountain stage, and Ineos likely knew they would need to make some drastic changes prior to the loom Tour de France.

To complicate matters, Bernal dropped out of the race prior to stage 4, with the team cited vague back pains (the silver lining is that this non-start likely kept Bernal from being caught up in the massive crash on that stage). This is incredibly strange, especially considering Bernal was seen training later in the day. Either Bernal’s back is truly hurt, which would be catastrophic this close to the Tour de France, or there was some intra-team fighting due to his lack of support from riders like Froome and Thomas and he simply thought it wasn’t worth his time. This theory would be supported by the massive shake-up to Ineos’ Tour lineup announced this week.

EF’s Daniel Martinez ended up winning the Dauphine ahead of a flailing Pinot, who somehow found himself caught out on the final stage when he knew everyone would aggressively attack his lead (it happens literally every year on the final stage of the Dauphine) but his win is slightly overshadowed by the fact that Kuss was clearly the strongest rider left in the race on the final stage, but lost time due to his teammate for Roglic on stages 1-4.

Tour de France GC Picture (kind of) Clears Up

All of this leaves us in a difficult position in attempting to get a handle on who will win the Tour de France in September. Many of the outside “pretenders” like Richie Porte, Romain Bardet, Alejandro Valverde, Adam Yates, and Rigoberto Urán all looked incredibly mediocre at the Dauphine, and the riders who shined, like Martinez, Guillaume Martin, and Tadej Pogačar are unproven at the Tour de France.

If we look at the past eight Tour de France winners, they were all riding well, if not winning, their preparation stage race prior to the Tour.

  • 2019 Egan Bernal- two weeks before Tour win he wins the Tour de Suisse

  • 2018 Geraint Thomas- three weeks before Tour win he wins the Dauphine

  • 2017 Chris Froome-three weeks before Tour win he is 4th at the Dauphine

  • 2016 Chris Froome-three weeks before Tour win he wins the Dauphine

  • 2015 Chris Froome-three weeks before Tour win he wins the Dauphine

  • 2014 Vincenzo Nibali-three weeks before Tour win he is 7th at the Dauphine

  • 2013 Chris Froome-three weeks before Tour win he wins the Dauphine

  • 2012 Bradley Wiggins, three weeks before Tour win he wins the Dauphine

If we assume this trend will hold, one of the following riders will win the Tour de France. They are listed in order of most likely to win.

  • Primoz Roglic (+150)-Was leading Dauphine prior to dropping out after stage 4. According to his team, he only suffered road rash, but a crash this close to the Tour is never good. Remember, Lance Armstrong crashed at the 2003 Dauphine and said it contributed to his sub-par performance at that year’s Tour.

  • Tom Dumoulin (+700)-7th overall at the Dauphine. The Dutch powerhouse is slowly building his form after 18 months away from racing. He looked okay in the first 4 stages of the Dauphine, but his powerful attack out of the chase group on the final climb of the final stage shows he could be a major contender in two weeks.

  • Egan Bernal (+300)-Sitting 7th overall at the Dauphine prior to dropping out after stage 3. He didn’t look particularly good before he dropped out, but Bernal is so talented that if his back isn’t seriously injured, he can build off that form and potentially win the Tour.

  • Tadej Pocager (+1400)-The young Slovenian finished 4th overall at the Dauphine and nearly won the final stage. He didn’t dazzle in the first 4 stages, but he is certainly showing signs of being able to put together a dark horse ride at the Tour. Remember, he finished on the podium at last year’s Vuelta a Espana, so we know he can handle a three-week stage and can both climb and TT with the best.

  • Nairo Quintana (+3300)-Sitting 7th overall at the Dauphine prior to dropping out after stage 4. Quintana looked okay at the Dauphine, but he dropped out citing knee pain, and if his knee was hurting after 4 days at the Dauphine, I can’t imagine it will feel great in the third week of the Tour.

  • Pavel Sivakov (+2500)-The Ineos rider looked great all week at the Dauphine, especially after Bernal dropped out and he was given free rein, but a nasty crash at the final day isn’t ideal this close to the Tour.

  • Sepp Kuss (+6600)-The American looks to be the strongest climber/stage racer in the world right now. The big questions are if his team will allow him to ride as a leader (this was unthinkable last week, but since Kruijswijk is out of the race and if Roglic can’t recover from his crash, Kuss will be co-leader with Dumoulin), if he can hold up to the demands of leading a three-week race (he’s never done it) and if he could limit his losses on the stage 20 TT. The final 6km of the 36km TT are uphill, but the slight American struggles in the race against the clock.

  • Thibault Pinot (+800)-2nd at the Dauphine. The loveable French loser looked fairly strong at the Dauphine but it’s unacceptable he wouldn’t have been better prepared for the chaos of the final stage. This sums up why he always has issues. It is fun when he is chasing hard and emoting all over the bike while the other french contenders are working for him, but this is a common issue that could be fixed with better preparation and awareness.

  • Richard Carapaz (+1200)-The surprise addition to the Ineos team finished 13th at Lombardia and won a stage at the Tour of Poland. He appears to be in decent form, but he has been building his form for the Giro later in the year, not to be leading the biggest team in the world at the biggest race in the world. On the flip side, Carapaz is a killer with a world-class ability to read a race and shouldn’t be counted completely out.

  • Daniel Martinez (+3300)-Won the Dauphine, which has been the best predictor of success at the Tour in the last decade. He is a completely unknown entity in a three-week race and has few, if any, positive results in mountain stages at grand tours. He did bag a top-10 in the time trial at the 2019 Vuelta, which means GT success is theoretically possible if he can shine in the mountains. However, I hate putting any faith in totally unknown entities, and Martinez has no results to speak of in grand tours.

  • Guillaume Martin (+6600)-3rd overall at the Dauphine. An impressive ride from the Frenchman, but the course was perfect for the 55kg climber, who will always find tough flat stages and TTs (even short ones with climbs) insurmountable odds to winning a grand tour.

  • Lennard Kämna (+40000)-8th overall at the Dauphine. Highly impressive showing from the young German and bodes well for the future, but even at an absurd +40,000, I wouldn’t put more than a few dollars on him winning the Tour.

The overall will likely be fought between Bernal, Roglic, and Dumoulin, so well-placed bets on those riders will likely land you ahead.

Giro di Lombardia Race Notes

Jakob Fuglsang won the Italian one-day monument in fantastic fashion, dropping Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett with 6.4km to go before riding to a solo win.

The Italian race, usually run in October, saw heat play a factor in thinning the peloton before the major selection on the incredibly steep Muro di Sormano that crested 50.2km from the finish line. Seven riders made it over the climb in the lead group (Jakob Fuglsang, Aleksandr Vlasov, George Bennett, Remco Evenepoel, Bauke Mollema, Giulio Ciccone, and Vincenzo Nibali) and anyone who didn’t make this split was immediately out of contention for the win.

On the run-in to the climb, Remco was sitting dutifully in second-position in the peloton, looking incredibly fresh, and eliminating any chance he would be caught out, which is key in the narrow and steep Sormano.

Once the climbing began, Fuglsang’s Astana team shot to the front and ramped up the pace, immediately shedding contenders like Max Schachmann (and my favorite bet at +2500 coming into the day) and Mathieu van der Poel.

Schachmann gets popped from the lead group with 51.4km while doing pushing out around 400 watts. While he got dropped early, this decision to meter his effort was the reason he was able to overtake the mass of riders in front of him and become the lone chaser behind the lead group in the finale. He would go on to finish 7th despite being hit by a rogue car on the course and breaking his collarbone.

Van der Poel is suffering in last wheel right after this and gets dropped immediately a few moments later. This was likely a big goal of Astana’s surge, as this is the climbers’ best chance of dropping the bigger van der Poel before the lumpy, but not crushingly steep finishing circuit.

By the top of the climb, George Bennett is drilling the pace to ensure none of the dropped riders catch back on, our final section of seven potential victors is established 50km from the line.

Side note: notice that Carapaz, present on the far left in the previous photo, has been dropped by this point. This doesn’t speak well of his form two weeks prior to the Tour’s first mountain stage.

Vincenzo Nibali unleashed a blistering-fast descent off the climb on Lake Como’s notoriously windy and narrow roads. The attack was an impressive display of world-class bike handling and kept any chasers from latching back on after being dropped on the Sormano. On the other hand, it was too far from the final two climbs to pose any real threat and the increased pace saw Remco lose to contact with the group and then fly off a bridge and break his pelvis after hitting a guardrail while trying to chase back on.

The seven-man group became six after the loss of Remco, and Trek appeared to hold the advantage by having three out of the six riders in the lead group (including the 2019 winner Mollema and 2017/15 winner Nibali).

However, with just under 20km to-go, Fuglsang shed the entire Trek trio with a single attack.

Shortly after, Bennett’s chances seriously diminished after Fuglsang’s teammate Vlasov bridged up to join the leading duo.

A little over 10-km later, on the final climb, Bennett unleashes what he hoped would be the winning move, and he does succeed in distancing Vlasov, but Fuglsang follows him easily before launching his own winning move a kilometer later.

The moment Bennett sits back down in the saddle after standing up to respond to Fuglsang’s acceleration, the race is over and Fuglsang is on his way to his second monument win in as many years.

Takeaways:

  • Fuglsang is in incredible shape and should be Astana’s team leader at the upcoming Tour de France, instead of the seemingly off-form Miguel Angel Lopez.

  • It is highly disappointing to see Remco’s impressive run-up results ended by a brutal and unnecessary crash. I was looking forward to seeing how he fared at the upcoming Giro and we may have to wait a while to see him in top form again.

  • Second-place is a massive result for George Bennett and shows he has more to offer Jumbo than his current, super-domestique role.

  • I’ve talked about van der Poel being off his form from the 2019 season, but his tenth-place finish here is incredibly impressive for a rider much more suited for flatter terrain (he is 10kg heavier than race-winner Fuglsang). With the indication is form is building, watch for him in the flatter northern-classics in October.