Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas have both been left out of Team Ineos’ Tour de France squad as Sir Dave Brailsford signals a changing of the guard within the team.
Defending champion Egan Bernal will line up with the support of 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz, but four-time Tour winner Froome will instead go to the Vuelta a Espana in November, while 2018 Tour winner Thomas looks to the Giro d’Italia in October.
It is a significant moment in the history of a team that has won seven of the past eight Tours, six of them with a British rider, with Luke Rowe the only Brit in an eight-man squad which instead places the emphasis on the youth of Bernal and Pavel Sivakov, both 23.
And after years of British domination of the Tour since Sir Bradley Wiggins’ win in 2012, it means this year’s race will begin without a major British contender for yellow as Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates focuses on stage wins.
Froome, who will leave Ineos to join the Israel Start-Up Nation squad next season, was targeting what would be a record-equalling fifth Tour crown, but his absence is ultimately not a surprise a year after he broke his neck, femur, elbow, hip and ribs at the Criterium du Dauphine.
The 35-year-old was back at the Dauphine last week alongside Bernal and Thomas, but his 71st place overall did little to convince anyone that he was ready for the challenge of the Tour – something he has now accepted himself.
“I’ve had an incredible recovery from the big crash I had last year and I’m in a very fortunate position to be back racing now already, but I’m not confident that I can really fulfil the necessary job that would be needed from me at this year’s Tour de France,” said Froome, who will instead look to add to his two Vuelta titles.
“I think it’s a lot more realistic targeting the Vuelta a Espana. It gives me a chance to really get stuck into something that’s deliverable.”
But while Froome’s absence was signposted, Thomas had looked a more certain bet to be on the startline in Nice.
His 2018 win ahead of Froome is still fresh in the memory, while he was a close second to Bernal last summer in a Tour upended by Julian Alaphilippe’s surprising two-week spell in the yellow jersey and the curtailing of the final two stages due to bad weather.
The 34-year-old will instead seek to become only the second Brit – behind Froome – to win the Giro, a race he last targeted in 2017 when his bid was derailed by crashes.
“In 2017, I was in great shape, in similar form to what I was in ’18 when I won the Tour,” Thomas said. “The Giro ended badly that year with a crash and it’s something I’ve always wanted to go back to.
“I enjoy the racing there. I have always loved Italy, the roads and the fans and the food, obviously. It’s just a race I’ve always enjoyed anyway, a country where I love to race, so I’m certainly looking forward to going back.”
Brailsford is instead putting his money on Bernal, a man who has impressed since racing resumed at the start of the month by winning the Route d’Occitanie and finishing second in the Tour de l’Ain.
The Colombian made his Tour debut in 2018, finishing an impressive 15th place while riding in support of Thomas, while his victory last year came in a season when he was instead due to target the Giro before breaking a collarbone in a training accident.
Twelve months on he now appears the undisputed leader of the team.
“It’s a bit strange to not have G and Froomey in the Tour, but I’m really excited to see what G will do in the Giro d’Italia – it’s a really good Giro for him with these three time trials, so I think he can gain some time there and then try to defend in the big mountains,” Bernal said.
“Also in the Vuelta, who knows? Maybe I can go there and just try to help Froomey. Now for sure I need to be focused on the Tour, but after the Tour, I have no plans yet, so it could be a good option.”