If you’re not scared you’re not paying attention. At least if you’re the boss of a non-British cycling team and harbour ambitions to win a Grand Tour in, say, the next decade or so.
For, in the week that Team Sky officially regenerates as Team INEOS (that’s the first and only time we’ll be pandering to their all caps predilection, by the way), on the road it felt like we were given a glimpse of what this bunch will be doing in a racing sense for the next ten years as well.
It might only have been a Giro d’Italia warm-up but last week’s Tour of the Alps contained some of the most frighteningly hot stage race action we’ve seen all season. Starting with Tao Geoghegan Hart’s blistering selective sprint finish on Monday, Sky won three out of the five stages. Pavel Sivakov took one of these plus the overall prize.
Suspending a small amount of scepticism that a rider with a name like that can possibly be just 21 – surely he’s at least 37, with a minimum of two Olympic track bronze medals to his name? – it was fascinating to watch the twosome tear Your New Favourite Race™ to pieces. Veterans Vincenzo Nibali and Rafal Majka were left looking a lot older than their respective years, as the rider from Hackney and the Italy-born, France-raised Russian punched, and then counterpunched their way to victory.
Scarier still is that these two are “just” the team’s second stringers. We have long known that Egan Bernal would be leading the line for them at the Giro in what it’s equally hard to believe is just his second season there, while the comparatively ancient Froome and Thomas take aim at the Tour.
Of Froome, a short note. He’s obviously on a completely different track in terms of his training targets, but it was still quite something to see him playing not even second fiddle, but third last week in Austria and Italy.
Both Sivakov and Tao will be heading to the Giro to support Bernal, who is the bookies’ third favourite. Another frighteningly talented young Colombian, Iván Sosa, will have his back as well. The kit, faces and team name might be less familiar than in previous years, but does anyone want to bet against another dominant performance from the Grand Tour-conquering British outfit?
We say it too often, and too often it’s proven premature rather than prophetic, but is it possible, this time, the guard really is changing?