When Tao Geoghegan Hart won the Giro D’Italia on the final day in Milan last October, Dave Brailsford, Ineos Grenadiers general manager, suggested that it was a turning point in the British team’s tactics.
Yet, stage three of last week’s Tour De La Provence was reminiscent of the Ineos Grenadiers, and before that Team Sky, of old.
There was a surprisingly packed line-up at this early season race in the south of France. But regardless of the big names and experienced riders, they were no match for Ineos on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.
By the time Ineos’ young Spaniard Carlos Rodriguez had finished a powerful turn at the front of an already threadbare pack of riders, his teammate Ivan Sosa was ready to attack.
He quickly distanced himself from teammate Egan Bernal and both Deceuninck-Quick Step’s Julian Alaphilippe and Bahrain-Victorious’ Wout Poels.
It was widely reported that Bernal had come to the event to support his compatriot Sosa, as he continued his recovery from a back injury that hampered his 2020 season, so it came as no surprise when Sosa left him behind with four kilometres of the climb to go.
Bernal executed his role on the stage so well though that it begged the question of whether his condition has been downplayed. The Colombian, not wanting to bridge the gap to his teammate, sat on world champion Alaphilippe’s wheel as he hunted down Sosa in vain.
Then, when Sosa looked to be in the clear, the 2019 Tour De France winner showed flashes of his former self. He teased the rainbow jersey holder with a handful of punchy attacks, distancing Wout Poels in the process, before properly attacking inside the last kilometre.
Sosa crossed the line 15 seconds ahead of Bernal, with Alaphilippe a further three back. Despite one more stage still to unfold, Sosa’s grip on the overall standings would not loosen.
Alaphilippe moved up to second on the fourth and final stage thanks to bonus seconds won at an intermediate sprint.
Alaphilippe always entertains
Never content. The few seconds he clawed back on the final day, which isn’t even a World Tour level event, exemplify his mentality towards racing.
Despite an unsuccessful ascent of Mont Ventoux, Alaphilippe was in fine form over the four days.
He spent at least 60 kilometres of day one out in front, as part of a three-man breakaway. The break was caught with two kilometres to go but that didn’t deter the world champion from helping his teammate Davide Ballerini to win the sprint.
Ballerini would repeat this feat the following day but Alaphilippe wasn’t there to witness it this time. He was dusting himself down after a crash two kilometres from the line.
The fall clearly didn’t impact him too badly though, with him cracking a wide smile to the TV cameras as he rolled towards the line after hearing of his teammate’s victory.
Expect the world champion to live up to his rainbow bands jersey and add plenty of colour to the tour this year.
Cav makes bittersweet return to Quick Step
In his first race back with Deceuninck-Quick Step, Mark Cavendish found some positives despite a puncture ruining his chances of victory at the Clásica de Almería.
Having re-joined the ‘Wolfpack’, a team he rode for between 2013 and 2015, the Manx missile is keen to rekindle his love for the sport after several years battling with Epstein-Barr virus.
Doing so at a team with fond memories makes good sense. The man with four wins on the Champs-Élysées on his record, is now more of a lead out man for the sprinters in the twilight years of his career, yet this is a service he seems more than happy to provide.
That was Cavendish’s job for his Quick Step teammate Alvaro Hodeg at the Spanish one-day race on Sunday.
However, Hodeg crashed heavily with 20 kilometres to go, passing the baton to Cavendish for the sprint. This would’ve been fine had he not suffered a setback of his own just minutes later.
A puncture on the final lap in Roquetas del Mar dashed any hopes of an overdue victory for the Brit.
Cavendish though, was clearly just happy to be back racing, stating that he “felt like a pure bike racer again.”
It’s not just influencers going to Dubai
The first UCI World Tour event of the season kicks off on Sunday with the UAE Tour. There’s no shortage of big names either.
Chris Froome will make his debut for Israel Start-Up Nation with Adam Yates doing the same for Ineos Grenadiers.
Tadej Pogačar, Vincenzo Nibali, Sam Bennett, Mathieu Van Der Poel and Alejandro Valverde are just some of the other contenders expected to battle it out in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart will ride closer to home in the South of France.
They’ll be joined at the three-day Tour du Haut Var by the likes of Nairo Quintana, Jakob Fuglsang, Dan Martin and Greg Van Avermaet.
By Pete Trifunovic