The more things change, the more they stay the same. The late 19th Century French journalist and novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is credited with penning this epigram and it serves as an apt method with which to wrap up the 2019 Tour de France.
Things change: Egan Bernal, at 22, became the youngest Tour de France champion in 110 years on Sunday, and the first from Colombia.
Things stay the same: and yet, Team Ineos rode to yet another success at cycling’s most lauded event – Bernal’s triumph a seventh year in the last eight a rider wearing Ineos (Team Sky) colours has captured the famed yellow jersey.
Ineos’ grip on, nay, obsession with Le Tour is fascinating. Other teams may be enjoying success – Deceuninck Quick-Step’s number of victories over the last two years is bordering on the ridiculous, while rookie ventures UAE Team Emirates and Bahrain-Merida are making quiet strides.
But Ineos’ thirst for glory and continued pursuit of excellence on cycling’s grandest stage is deservedly keeping the spotlight focused on them.
Even ahead of this year’s race, an out of form and injured Geraint Thomas was seen as the favourite to retain the crown he took from Chris Froome last year. The Welshman hardly shone as he did 12 months earlier, yet he was still more than good enough to be among the leaders throughout.
ICYMI: Here's the moment @EganBernal & @GeraintThomas86 crossed the line together as the pair all but wrapped up a one-two finish at the Tour de France.— Team INEOS (@TeamINEOS) July 27, 2019
Get all the reaction: 🗣️https://t.co/FWfAWOPONE pic.twitter.com/J6YayAQ6gw
Eventually finishing runner-up to team-mate Bernal, just 1’ 11” adrift, with the likes of Steven Kruijswijk, Emanuel Buchmann, Julian Alaphilippe, Mikel Landa and Rigoberto Uran not quite able to do enough to give Ineos a thorough inspection.
Bernal was seen as a pre-race favourite – for the young rider’s white jersey, not the yellow. Of the 176 participants from the 22 teams that took to the start line in Brussels on July 6, Bernal was the second youngest – only UAE Team Emirates’ burgeoning Belgian Jasper Philipsen, 21, his junior.
Coming into the race a bright future was being discussed. That future already appears to be here.
He was sort of thrust into the limelight following Froome’s horrific Tour-ending crash in training – which left him with multiple broken bones including a fractured neck, right femur, a broken hip and fractured ribs – while Thomas was lucky to escape serious injury in a crash during Stage 4 at the Tour de Suisse, ending his participation. Both occurred in June, just weeks before the Tour.
Yet, team principal Dave Brailsford had no hesitation in naming Bernal co-leader alongside the reigning champion – perhaps acutely aware that he was ready for the biggest of steps up.
Thomas, who despite admitting to never being at his best during the last month, will feel bitterly disappointed inside at getting so close and being so far away from retaining his title.
And yet, he essentially seemed to willingly fall in line to help his younger Colombian colleague secure the overall – and ultimate – race lead on the shortened penultimate stage to Val Thorens on Saturday.
Success is part of Ineos’ present and past. But in Bernal they are also investing in the future. Never satisfied with what they have they are always seeking to improve and extend their Tour de France legacy, even if Bernal’s ascension to the throne came quicker than expected.
Team-mates Thomas and Froome – winners of the last four Tours and five of the previous six – might be considered at the top of the slope and on their way down the mountains that have been their careers.
Bernal, meanwhile, is at the foot of what could prove a steep and prolonged incline.
Just think, 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz is set to join them next season. With rumours a two-year contract for the Ecuadorian to move from Movistar to join his fellow South American Bernal is to be announced on August 1, Ineos are making inroads into the future with Thomas, 33, and Froome, 34, entering their twilight.
Imagine an Ineos line-up for the 2020 Tour consisting of all four – the last three champions as well as 26-year-old Giro king, Carapaz. Sure, the debate of team leaders would cause havoc and generate headlines galore. But it would be almost impossible to see anyone beyond them coming out on top once more.
For all this talk of Ineos’ success and stranglehold on cycling’s signature race, it would be remiss of us not to mention another rider.
A thought, or several, must be spared for Alaphilippe – the home hope who wore yellow for 14 of the 2019 Tour’s 21 stages. Who seemed for so long like he might just end 34 years of hurt for the host nation, who hadn’t seen one of their own clamber atop the No1 spot on the podium in Paris since Bernard Hinault won the fifth and final of his Tour titles in 1985.
Alaphilippe deserves plenty of praise for his phenomenal efforts in remaining with the mountain men for most of the race – especially through the torturous Pyrenees and Alps.
Still, even with the career year he is having, he did not possess the reserves to rip away Ineos’ grip on the magnificent maillot jaune.
For Alaphilippe, Quick-Step and indeed the rest of the riders and teams, they all face a struggle to keep up with the pace being set by Ineos.
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