By Julien Pretot
BOLOGNA, Italy (Reuters) – Dave Brailsford’s Team INEOS, well known for the ruthless approach that in their former incarnation helped them win eight grand tour titles since 2012, start the Giro d’Italia looking to have fun for a change with two ambitious youngsters at the helm.
With designated leader Egan Bernal out with a broken collarbone, Tao Geoghegan Hart, 24, and Pavel Sivakov, 21, will lead the charge when the three-week stage race starts in Bologna on Saturday.
Russian Sivakov, who also has French nationality and was born in Italy, geared up with an unexpected victory on the Tour of the Alps ahead of Briton Geoghegan Hart, suggesting INEOS – formerly Team Sky – might already have Tour de France champions Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas’s successors in their ranks.
Brailsford, however, knows it will be part of a learning curve for his young guns, who will be up against far more experienced top riders of the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Primosz Roglic and Simon Yates.
“The expectation is to have fun,” Brailsford told a news conference on Thursday.
“Chris Froome has more grand tours than all the riders of the squad together.
“I feel a lot of their energy and of their enthusiasm,” added Brailsford with a smile that he rarely shows on the Tour de France, where the stakes are much higher.
On this Giro, “we can be more flexible, we can make mistakes and try crazy things, it’s a liberating approach to a race.”
Sivakov and Geoghegan Hart and Sivakov have however laid down a big marker with last month’s one-two on the mountainous Tour of the Alps, showing the climbing abilities and composure that are essential on the Giro.
“There’s a quiet confidence even if a grand tour is a different ball game because there are big champions here,” said Geoghegan Hart.
“But we can take (the Tour of the Alps) as a confirmation that we are both moving forward.”
“I don’t fix myself any limit,” Sivakov, who won the Baby Giro – for under-27s – told Reuters.
“We are young and we arrive here without any pressure. We are a very young team, we are the future generation after Chris Froome and G (Geraint Thomas).
“Of course if Egan had been here it would have been everybody for him, but it’s a good solution now, we are a group of young guys, the new generation of Team INEOS.”
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by XXXX)