Ineos Grenadiers Team Talk: High expectations, but do they meet them?

Analysing a year that saw the once-dominant Grenadiers almost win a Grand Tour again but ultimately fall short

Clock09:36, Thursday 9th November 2023
Ineos Grenadiers have had a middling season by their standards

© Sprint Cycling Agency

Ineos Grenadiers have had a middling season by their standards

British team Ineos Grenadiers are a squad that once used to dominate the biggest races in cycling, holding the Tour de France in their grip for the majority of the 2010s, but they’ve been knocked off that perch by the likes of Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates in recent years.

In 2023, the transition Ineos Grenadiers are currently going through was laid out for all to see. In some respects, there are still flashes of the past within the current team: Geraint Thomas came painfully close to winning the Giro d’Italia and proved that his Grand Tour-winning ability is not yet gone. But at the same time, their current line-up looks more focused on potential future talent rather than current big names as their superteam once was, with the likes of Carlos Rodríguez, Josh Tarling and Magnus Sheffield providing much of the promise for Ineos.

Read more: Josh Tarling: Ineos Grenadiers will be a really strong team in the coming years

With several of their more dependable riders leaving for pastures new in 2024, and only a handful of - largely young - new names coming through the door, it looks like the Ineos transition period will continue into next season and beyond, as they try to build towards new successes now that Grand Tour dominance seems to be a thing of their past.

GCN’s 2023 review

A few key points will define how Ineos Grenadiers’ 2023 season is remembered: Thomas’ success then collapse at the Giro d’Italia, their second-tier performances at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, and the general lack of big wins in big races. However, that reflection on the team’s season might be slightly clouded by recency bias, where the Vuelta was a particularly poor team performance. In fact, there were streaks of good earlier in the season.

Read more: Steve Cummings: Vuelta a España results don't lie but Ineos Grenadiers' spirit and fight remain

Starting the season in Spain, Tao Geoghegan Hart took the team’s first win of the year with a stage victory at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, kicking off what was meant to be a campaign towards Giro d’Italia success. Four more wins in Spain and Portugal followed for Ineos, with Ben Turner, Tom Pidcock and Dani Martínez all starting their seasons strong.

Heading into March, the team seemed buoyed. That paid off with their biggest one-day win of the year, Tom Pidcock’s victory at Strade Bianche. The young star added another big result to his growing palmarès with a strong solo performance, though one that perhaps added more to the Pidcock hype than any Ineos-focused praise.

The rest of the Spring Classics were pretty quiet for Ineos, probably not a huge surprise with much of the team focusing towards the Giro d’Italia, and the formerly dependable Dylan van Baarle now plying his trade at Jumbo-Visma. The Spring revealed the first notable gap in Ineos’ roster: they really don’t have any other big-name Classics riders outside of Pidcock, leaving themselves open if the Brit is out of action.

The Spring did bring some stage racing success, though, with Geoghegan Hart dominating the Tour of the Alps, whilst sprinter Ethan Hayter took victories in the Tour de Romandie and Itzulia Basque Country. However, despite a promising preparation, things did not go to plan at the Giro.

A big crash for Geoghegan Hart not only ended his race but his whole season, after suffering a fractured hip. Thomas duly picked up the leadership mantle, and came close to winning the race after a long stretch in pink, but yielded to Primož Roglič in the final time trial.

After focusing much of their energy on the Giro, Ineos didn’t really have a clear GC plan for the Tour de France, and it showed quite quickly. Their race was saved by a pair of stage wins for Michał Kwiatkowski and Carlos Rodríguez, with the latter climbing up to fifth overall, but in general, their GC approach seemed directionless, a far cry from their organised control in years gone by.

From the Tour, Ineos’ season seemed to fizzle out. Thomas’ redemption mission at the Vuelta pretty much failed before it even got started, and the fact that their only other wins of the summer came at the Tour de Wallonie and Renewi Tour probably tells you what you need to know. After a strong beginning, the Giro did seem to derail things, and they never quite picked up again from there.

It was far from Ineos’ greatest season, perhaps not even a good one by their recent standards, but when compared to their current competitors - not their former selves - it seems overblown to call 2023 a total disappointment. They won one of the biggest Classics, stages at the Tour, and finished the year as the fourth-best team in the UCI rankings. It may not be as good as we have come to expect from Ineos, but it wasn’t a year of abject failure.

GCN rating: 6.5/10

Took some season-saving wins but missed out on the big central goals and most will have expected more from the once-dominant team.

Ins & Outs

Ineos’ moves on the transfer season so far seemed to show more losses than gains. After being out of action for most of the season, Tao Geoghegan Hart is on his way out in 2024, heading to Lidl-Trek for better opportunities at the Tour de France. Pavel Sivakov is headed to UAE Team Emirates, young talent and Tour of Norway winner Ben Tulett is seeking more development pathways with Jumbo-Visma, and Dani Martínez has signed for Bora-Hansgrohe. Luke Plapp also ended his contract early to join Jayco-AlUla, which is perhaps a sign of some riders not being fully happy with the chances they get at Ineos.

Those riders will leave a big gap in Ineos’ roster, but so far the team hasn’t really done much to plug that hole. They’ve only signed two riders, the young American AJ August and dependable Spaniard Óscar Rodríguez. They’ve retained and extended contracts quite a lot of their current roster, but very few are names to be excited about, with riders like Ben Swift, Salvatore Puccio and Omar Fraile being reliable teammates but fairly forgettable in terms of results themselves.

Read more: Luke Rowe, Ben Swift and Laurens De Plus extend with Ineos Grenadiers

Rather than replace their more experienced riders with like-for-like stand-ins, the team seem to be committing to seeing out the careers of the team’s veterans - Thomas, Swift, Luke Rowe - whilst hoping to develop the likes of Tarling, Sheffield and August. It might be a good plan in the long term but may leave them a little light on horsepower for 2024. Suspected new signing Tobias Foss will help that, but the fact that Ineos were linked to some big names - like Primož Roglič, Remco Evenepoel and Cian Uijtdebroeks - suggests that they also see this immediate gap and did try to fill it, although not successfully.

Where Ineos Grenadiers will find wins in 2024

Whilst 2023 leaves plenty for Ineos to improve upon, it’s hard to see where they might actually find those improvements, in light of the riders who have left at the end of this season. The main big hope is likely to be Carlos Rodríguez, who burst into the frame as a serious Grand Tour contender at this year’s Tour de France, finishing fifth and building upon his seventh place on debut at last year’s Vuelta. Ineos and Movistar’s battle over who would sign the Spaniard shows how much potential they see in him, and it is likely he will be a better hope for Grand Tour leadership in 2024 than Geraint Thomas or Tom Pidcock, who is not quite on that level yet. A podium at the Tour is perhaps a realistic goal for Rodríguez.

In the Classics and one-day races, attention will still be on Tom Pidcock - though his dreams of mountain Olympic gold may see his attention diverted - but the likes of Ben Turner and Magnus Sheffield should also be in the conversation and could well take some one-day wins for Ineos. Ethan Hayter should also be a dependable sprinter, but again, will have one eye on the Olympics.

The loss of Geoghegan Hart marks a dent in the team’s stage race squad, and that may be where they really struggle for wins without someone who can contend with the top climbers. Hope remains that Egan Bernal may soon return to something resembling his previous abilities, but equally the Colombian has himself admitted that his goals are more modest than that.

The only discipline Ineos do look very strong in is time trialling. Filippo Ganna is of course the obvious name and one of the best time trialists in the world, but also young Josh Tarling is making a name for himself as a break-out rider on the TT scene. The Brit is the European champion and Worlds bronze medallist, and has taken a WorldTour TT win and the coveted Chrono des Nations title this summer. Between them, Ganna and Tarling should add a good few wins to Ineos’ tally in 2024, as well as hopefully being powerful forces in road races.

Ineos Grenadiers’ next breakout rider

With a whole host of young riders on their roster - 10 of their riders for next year are 24 or younger - there are several names you could predict as Ineos’ breakout rider for the coming season. A few of those have already had a breakout result, like Tarling, Sheffield and Rodríguez, but there are still several riders who will be hoping to take their first big road achievement in 2024.

The name we’re backing to tick that off is Michael Leonard. The 19-year-old Canadian joined Ineos at the start of 2023 off the back of quite a bit of power data-based hype, and had a relatively quiet debut season in the WorldTour, but recorded a few promising results. In an age where riders are often thrown straight into the WorldTour peloton, and not all come out the other side particularly successfully, there is perhaps something to be said for a rider being able to take a year to acclimatise to pro racing life, which is what Leonard has done.

With the team actively moving towards a more young rider-focused outlook for 2024, riders like Leonard should expect to receive a little more guidance and support from the team, and hopefully opportunities. Leonard doesn’t have the hype or pressure surrounding him that a rider like AJ August might, which may be a benefit in some respects. A strong time trialist, the Canadian definitely has an engine, and with Ineos lacking in the one-day race department, this may open up the door for some of their younger talents like Leonard to take some risks and opportunities.

What did you think of Ineos Grenadiers' 2023 season? Are they held to too high standards, or are they just not where they should be? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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