Tour de France Diary: What Happened to the Team Ineos (Sky)Train on Stage 6?

Geraint Thomas removed any lingering doubts about his form when he threw down an incredibly impressive performance by distancing every major rival on the brutally steep La Planche des Belles Filles. Some had questioned how the lackluster form Thomas’ displayed so far in 2019, an assurgent young teammate, and the lack of preparation racing would affect his chances, but the Welshman answered those questions in a few short minutes on Thursday and appears to be the favorite to take the overall for the second year running.

While Thomas might be back on the form that saw him dominate the 2018 edition, his Ineos’ team trademark train was notably absent on the final climb. Wout Poels was dropped on the day’s penultimate climb and Ineos was down to one helper shortly after starting the final climb.

It is possible this is an incredibly measured strategy to save energy for the brutal third week. However, when we consider the team’s lackluster performance in the team time trial, where they lost a whopping 20-seconds to Jumbo-Visma, the fact that they are simply not as strong as years past is a very real possibility.

With a full 4km left on the final climb on stage 6, viewers were treated to the highly unusual sight of Ineos not leading the peloton up a climb at the Tour de France. When Alejandro Valverde went to the front to drive the pace for his Movistar teammates, we knew something was seriously amiss.

Screenshot 2019-07-11 at 4.19.37 PM

A little over a kilometer later, Ineos was on the front, but the pace had lagged to the point that attacks were able to come over the top and immediately get distance off the front. We can even see Michal Kwiatkowski, leading the peloton, radioing back to the team car in a sign of mild panic and confusion.Screenshot 2019-07-11 at 4.20.50 PM

Less than a kilometer later, Kwiatkowski was dropped while the team’s two leaders, Thomas and Egan Bernal, were left to fend for themselves on the wheels of Groupama–FDJ (just let that sink in for a minute).

Screenshot 2019-07-11 at 4.21.19 PM

Thomas ultimately nullified any potential issues the lack of team strength presented with his individual strength, but it is certainly something to keep an eye on as the race advances. Ineos has kept the race on an extremely tight leash in Tour’s past, and if they aren’t able to do the same this year, Thomas could be forced to deal with attacks and isolation in a way he wasn’t during his winning ride in 2018.

Other Notes:

  • Richie Porte finished with Egan Bernal, Adam Yates and Jakob Fuglsang 9-seconds behind Thomas on stage 6. While his Trek Team’s dismal performance in the stage 2 TTT put him in a serious hole, the Tasmanian is flying under the radar and appears to be riding as well as he has all season.
  • Nairo Quintana limited his loses to 7-seconds on a stage 6 finish that certainly didn’t suit him.  This is likely one of his best chances to win the race overall and he looks to have sorted out the form issues that have plagued him for the past few seasons. Keep an eye on the slight Colombian when the race hits the high mountains.
  • If Thomas won the battle for the general classification on stage 6, Thibaut Pinot came in a close second. The French rider appears to be as relaxed and on form as we’ve ever seen him.
  • Current race leader Giulio Ciccone has a substantial gap on the serious climbers and time trialists. The young Italian is certainly a talented climber and it will be interesting to see how long he can hold Yellow. I have a feeling it will be for much longer than the conventional wisdom is giving him.
  • Thursday’s stage 6 saw the likely end of GC riders for Romain Bardet and Vincenzo Nibali. This is great news for fans as the two riders will look to animate the race in the third week as they hunt for spectacular stage wins.

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