The major general classification teams at the end of the first third of this 106th edition have all provided an indication of their overall strategy in the hunt for the yellow jersey.
Ineos has virtually been the only major WorldTour team and title contender squad that hasn’t been represented in breakaways that have succeeded over lumpier terrain. It could have with Gianni Moscon or Michal Kwiatkowski but didn’t. The battle to Ineos, as Brailsford sees it, isn’t important if you want to win the war.
The British team instead have copy and pasted from a playbook that has delivered it six Tour titles in seven years, sat at the front of the peloton, monitoring, guarding and focused at least for now strictly on yellow.
That vigilance reaped yet another advantage on Stage 10 with Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal staying alert to the windy conditions to emerge in an even stronger position heading into the rest day.
“We’re all in for that,” says Brailsford. “The trouble with being all in for it is if it doesn’t work for whatever reason then you end up with not a lot. But if you want to win it, I think you’ve got to be brave enough to go all in for it. It’s all or nothing,” he says.
Mitchelton-Scott and Trek-Segafredo both carry title hopes with Adam Yates and Richie Porte, respectively, but conversely, have to great avail sought out opportunities for other teammates to triumph this week.
Trek-Segafredo marked a stint in the maillot jaune with race debutant Giulio Ciccone, following the Italian’s second-place on the first mountain-top finish at La Planche des Filles.
Days later, Mitchelton-Scott celebrated victory on Stage 9 with Daryl Impey.
Each success served as both impetus as well as a chance for the respective sides to relax with a result already in the bag.
However, Brailsford queries at what overall cost. Both squads, in contrast to Ineos, equally expended more energy.
“For any team, having the yellow jersey in this race is a positive thing but does that then detract away from their ability to support Richie maybe further down the line? They’ve obviously made a decision about that, which was to put someone in the break,” he said.
“It’s not something we’d do I must admit. That’s not an approach we would take.”
Impey and Matteo Trentin both tried their hand at stage wins, with the rest of the team protecting Yates in the main bunch this week. Yates declined interviews outside of media windows provided by his team – another way of staying fresh and focused.
Porte was also protected and smartly made a point in the opening stages of staying hidden in the peloton, reserving energy that in previous years he has needlessly expended. Though there was, according to Brailsford, “theoretically” an increased onus on his outfit to control with Ciccone in yellow. It was a perceived responsibility that Porte dismissed.
EF Education First in the opening days moved around Rigoberto Uran like magnets, akin to Ineos’s tactic, but then diverted from that following the abandonment of Tejay van Garderen as well as Mike Woods’s crash-related set-back. Simon Clarke was allowed to take his own chances up the road.
“You’d have to start at the top and think what does success for the team look like? Then you drill down into individual goals within that overall approach,” said Brailsford.
On Stage 9 Ineos was, outside of Groupama-FDJ, the only major title contender that wasn’t represented in the winning escape. It was similar on La Planche des Filles where Ineos co-leader and defending champion Thomas accelerated from the main group to finish fourth in a statement display of power and confidence, which was at that point enough.
“We’re pretty strategic with the way we think about that. We wouldn’t see any merit in sticking somebody in a hard stage like that in the front, using their energy, burning themselves up when actually our single goal is to try and win the race,” said Brailsford.
“It’s like [hourglasses], they’re all full and trickling away. You can decide whether you turn them on or off. Every now and again you can turn some of them, give them a bit of a rest, save some of that sand and think, right, I’ll turn it back on again throughout the race when you need it.”
Time will tell which of the playbooks prevail.