The Vuelta a España was just about to get underway on Friday when it was officially confirmed that Ineos Grenadiers are set to lose two of their top riders in 2023, with Olympic champion Richard Carapaz heading for EF Education-EasyPost and Dylan Van Baarle moving on to Jumbo-Visma.
The exit of any major name inevitably leaves a vacuum to be filled, even more so when it’s a rider like Carapaz, who has already brought Ineos Grenadiers three Grand Tour podium finishes, or Van Baarle, who soloed to victory at Paris-Roubaix this spring.
The Ineos show goes on, with or without two of its main protagonists, but when it was pointed out to general manager Rod Ellingworth that these exits represented big losses for the team, he agreed fully: “They are.”
But Ellingworth also pointed out that other, younger Ineos Grenadiers riders are making big waves. “And Geraint Thomas is pretty young at heart too,” he joked.
“Richard has been fabulous for us, with three podiums at three Grand Tours and he’s Olympic champion, too, got a fantastic personality and always brings a lot of support from Ecuadorian fans,” Ellingworth told Cyclingnews.
“He’s got a nice story and we’ve enjoyed working with him, and I hope he goes away having learned a lot with the team.
“So he’s leaving it with the best will in the world on both sides. But it’s a business and we’re moving forward with the team. We’re still very ambitious and you’ve sometimes got to make way for different people.”
Ellingworth underlined that despite Carapaz’s desire to head for fresh fields and pastures new, the Ecuadorian had come to this Vuelta with “full GC ambitions and we’ll back him all the way. He’s an Ineos Grenadier right until December 31.” Van Baarle is part of Carapaz’s supporting cast at the Vuelta.
“It’s the same with Dylan,” Ellingworth said. “He’s been brilliant with us, and that win in Roubaix was phenomenal for us. But going where he’s going, I get it. It just makes sense.
“Given how passionate we felt about this team as a British team, I understand his transfer. And when you’re a Dutch team and you’ve built it like they have, then fair play to him.”
At the same time, Ellingworth pointed out, it was necessary to allow younger riders the space to develop in Ineos Grenadiers. “We’ve got plenty coming through,” he said. “Just these last few weeks, we’ve had Magnus [Sheffield] doing so well in Denmark, Pavel [Sivakov] in the Vuelta a Burgos, Ethan [Hayter] in Poland, and Tom winning the Europeans MTB and going back that bit further, winning in Alpe d’Huez. That’s the goal here, allowing people to grow.”
Asked to analyse the young Ineos Grenadiers riders in the Vuelta line-up, Ellingworth started with Hayter, noting that the Vuelta had always been on his schedule for this season.
“Earlier this year, he had an outside chance of the Tour, but that was a maybe, and we thought he’d gain more by doing stage races than the Classics this way. Either way, he’s a winner, he’s growing and he’s learning as well as using his track ambitions as well for racing, too,” Ellingworth said.
“Luke [Plapp] is an interesting one, too, and I think he just needs racing. A lot of these lads missed out during these two COVID years, it really stuffed the 19 to 22-year-olds. And you have to take that into account. So I’m sure Luke will have ups and downs here, but that’s what we want him to have, so long as he gets to Madrid.
“As for Carlos Rodriguez, we’ve got no issue with him at all and we’re sure he’ll make it to Madrid. He’s one of the calmest young guys I’ve come across, and this was part of his program too. And then there’s Ben Turner, I’m sure he’ll get to Madrid, no issues with that, and he’ll be a big player for us in the future, we saw that in the Classics and he’s a great teammate. But they’re all well aligned here as a group.”
As Ellingworth pointed out, the Vuelta was Tom Pidcock’s first Grand Tour last year. “And he learned a lot. And it’s something we’re always doing, putting a few young pros into these Grand Tours,” he said. “Otherwise, you just stick with the same old same old, and eventually, you get caught out. So it’s good to mix them up and this was the perfect year to do that.”
The absence of Carapaz and Van Baarle may make itself felt, then, but with a few weeks of the season left to go, Ellingworth is certain that they have yet to say their last word as Grenadiers racers. And if they are the present at the Vuelta, by bringing through the younger racers, Ineos are putting in some interesting down payments on the team’s future in Spain as well. Any vacuum the established riders leave, in other words, looks like it could be filled very quickly indeed.