Ineos sports director Servais Knaven believes his team’s two-prong attack at the Tour de France will reap currency not consequence as Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal ready for the first mountaintop finish.
The dynamic between defending champion Thomas and newcomer Bernal has been a talking point of this Tour from the outset, with speculation that the latter may eventually assume outright leadership despite his comparative inexperience.
Ineos, which formerly operated as Sky, has won six Tours in seven years typically with a ruthlessly singular objective and one top dog.
Knaven said Bernal’s elevation to co-leader this season didn’t represent a change in tact from the British squad, pointing to last year’s race where Chris Froome finished third behind Thomas and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).
“Last year we had also two leaders so it’s a bit similar. The difference is that last year was Froomey and 'G'. Now we have 'G', who won it last year, and Egan, who is really stepping up. I think riding with two leaders is not totally new for us, and it’s going really well I must say. They get along well together and there is a good atmosphere in the team,” said Knaven.
Bernal has skipped the typical initiation of a second-year professional following impressive performances, from his WorldTour debut last season, in which he was MVP to Thomas and Froome in a Tour he finished 15th overall, to now.
The 22-year-old was due to lead Ineos at the Giro d’Italia in May, but didn’t start because of injury. He arrived in France fresh from overall victory at the Tour de Suisse that Thomas crashed out of on Stage 4, suffering from abrasions to his head and body.
Bernal grew-up at altitude in Colombia so the notable high mountains that this Tour features should suit him and has perhaps contributed to the otherwise deserved hype surrounding the climber.
“We all think it makes sense to have him as a co-leader. He’s a different type of rider to 'G', so he can play different tactics if needed,” said Knaven. “When you’re not in yellow you have to attack and then you have two cards to play: One is really punchy and another one is really strong and can do long efforts. That’s different tactics we could play if needed.”
How Bernal handles the media demand, headlines, fanfare and general noise around the Tour remains to be seen though he has shown a professionalism and calm maturity beyond his years, suggesting it may not be a shock or negatively affect performance.
It’s a skill the genuine Welshman Thomas has mastered.
Stage 6 to La Planche des Belles Filles features seven categorised climbs across a 160.5km route, with an average temperature of 13 degrees Celsius forecast at the ski station.
Current race leader and 2018 KOM champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) hopes to retain the yellow jersey after the run.
“It’s hard to predict what others will do,” Knaven said. “We have to take on the moment in the final, see how our guys are feeling and if there is anything we can do to make it hard, or just to follow, wait for the end. That’s something we still need to discuss.”