Ineos CEO: ‘We’ve moved on from marginal gains, we’re now looking for maximal gains’

John Allert discusses the team’s soul-searching, restructuring, and efforts to catch back up with the competition

Clock07:42, Tuesday 7th May 2024
Ineos Grenadiers on stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia

© Getty Images

Ineos Grenadiers on stage 2 of the Giro d'Italia

Ever since they started out in 2010, Ineos Grenadiers - then Sky Procycling - have been governed by the credo of marginal gains; Dave Brailsford’s aggregation of micro-improvements into one larger leap in performance. Seven yellow jerseys were landed in eight years, and the British team were very much at the vanguard of the sport.

Four years have passed, however, since the team’s last Tour de France title, and two have passed without a Grand Tour or a Monument. Meanwhile, other teams have not only caught up, but left them behind.

That much is acknowledged by the team’s new CEO, John Allert, who summed up the sense of soul-searching rather neatly.

“We’ve probably moved past the days of marginal gains,” he said in an interview with GCN on the front seats of the team bus at the Giro d’Italia. “We’re looking for maximal gains.”

Allert is now steering a ship that had looked increasingly listless since the pandemic, as Brailsford stepped into the shadows and into a broader role across Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos portfolio. Long-time ally Rod Ellingworth had taken the lead on a day-to-day basis as Deputy Team Principal, but he left the team over the winter, and Allert has stepped into the role of CEO that had been vacant since the departure of Fran Millar in 2020.

“My role is very clear. I’m accountable to the owners for everything that happens in this team,” Allert said.

"I don’t come from a performance background, which is why we have people who have deep skills and great experience in that area, but ultimately it’s my job with the senior management team to set the strategy, take that to the owners, they then endorse and mandate us to execute that strategy, and I’m then accountable for the results that come from that.”

Allert reports into Ineos’ Head of Sport, Jean-Claude Blanc, but still communicates on a weekly basis with Brailsford, who has officially stepped down from any official management role. “He’s a fantastic source of counsel,” said Allert. “He’s got probably unmatched experience in elite cycling and I’d be a fool not to be tapping into that as often as I do.”

Read more: Ineos Grenadiers: We’re the hunter not the hunted

Disruption and innovation

Allert’s taking of the reins came as part of a significant re-shuffle of senior positions, with the recruitment of Scott Drawer as Performance Director and Steve Baynes as Head of Medical, as well as the promotions of Carsten Jeppesen to Director of Performance Operations and former directeur sportive Steve Cummings to Director of Racing.

“Change can be a positive thing and that’s what we’re embracing at the moment,” Allert said.

“I’ve inherited a world-class staff group and a fantastic rider list, but we clearly need to reconfigure strategically what we’re doing, and use more rigorous methods to catch up on what is clearly an evident gap to the likes of UAE and Visma, who have learned from the past and moved the game on.”

All this adds up to an acknowledgement that the team are not where they want or need to be – nowhere near it, going by the need for ‘maximal’ gains. Whereas previously the messaging might have highlighted the individual super-talents of Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard, Allert freely admits the team have been left behind in general by the likes of UAE Team Emirates and Visma-Lease a Bike.

The question now is how they catch up again.

“It’s not a case of us having stood still, it’s other people developing at a faster rate than we have done in the last two or three years. We need to look in the mirror and be honest about that, which we have,” Allert said.

“What we’ve understood better over the past few months is the need to be far more strategically efficient around what we’re trying to achieve, and far more aggressive in our use of data and R&D partnerships to progress what we’re doing, not just with our athletes but with our equipment. Our partners are readily embracing that challenge.

“There’s no silver bullet, no single answer. We’ve probably moved past the days of marginal gains. We’re looking for maximal gains, which are pretty hard to achieve, but the only way to achieve them is through being disruptive and innovative.”

Read more: Ineos Grenadiers: We’re the hunter not the hunted

The Tour de France

Ineos Grenadiers might be searching for maximal gains but it feels like they’re still scrambling for their modern-day identity. For so long, the team existed for one purpose: to win the Tour de France. As they grew, those ambitions broadened and then, as a new generation of precocious talents effectively re-wrote the rulebook, Brailsford spoke of a need to dismantle the ‘Skybot’ train and embrace the racier elements of cycling’s new direction.

Now, however, there are rumblings that the Tour de France is back on the table as the holy grail. After all, the owner Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man, has only won the yellow jersey once, in 2019, just a couple of months after acquiring the team, and this is a man who likes a bold statement, such as breaking the two-hour marathon barrier with Eliud Kipchoge, or even taking charge of Manchester United.

“There’s no one in this sport, certainly not in our team, who doesn’t want to win the Tour de France. We’ve had unmatched success in that objective in the past 15 years, and it’s not an objective that ever went away,” Allert said. 

“I guess if anything people saw us doing other things, thinking it meant less to us, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every single person in the team is determined to win the Tour. We’re not bashful in stating that as our key objective.”

The disquiet and upheaval in the team over the winter had only intensified as the team struggled badly for results in the first part of the season, but a string of wins in the past month, including Tom Pidcock at Amstel Gold Race, Carlos Rodríguez at the Tour de Romandie, and now Jhonatan Narváez on the opening day of the Giro, have steadied the ship.

Can Ineos Grenadiers kick on from here? The next few months should tell us more about how those maximal gains take shape.

“This is a team where there’s no arrogance, there’s a lot of humility, and a lot of hard work and dedication to making sure we get back to the top step,” Allert concluded. “It’s only hard work and innovation that’s going to do that.”

For more of the latest from the professional peloton, visit our racing news page.

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