These guys? Cycling’s richest team has a lot going on, they always do, but it’s not the same script as what we were used to in recent times. This should be a fascinating season for the British behemoths. And no, even though you probably would rather skip straight to the kit history discussion, I will not be moving that up to Factor #1.
1. Who’s #1?
Short answer is Egan Bernal. Something close to 100% of us hope that he recovers to his old form. And if he does, then he immediately becomes INEOS’ most important rider, by default at least. Geraint Thomas at 36 is still a fine rider but can’t be considered a Tour threat. Dani Martinez’ ceiling probably isn’t high enough for grand tour glory. Tao Hart got his Giro but that’s probably it. Carlos Rodriguez needs more time before we start drawing conclusions.
2. OK, And What Does That Mean?
But underneath this is a bigger question about what this team is now — specifically, are they no longer the Terrors of the Tour? I don’t think that was clear a year ago but it is now. Even 100% healthy Bernal is not going to win the Tour. On an individual level, he’s very unlikely to be able to match Vingegaard and Pogacar, and INEOS can’t really claim any superiority as a team over Jumbo in particular. Sky has been who they’ve been, but Jumbo have turned Dutch engineering pride into a team that’s every bit the ultra-professional juggernaut Sky was. And Pogi is Pogi. We aren’t even bringing up Evenepoel.
I don’t think Bernal is on their level even if he recovers, in part because he won’t have a team boost that Jumbo can’t match or best. UAE are stacking their lineup to help Pogacar too, assuming he even needs it. Bernal... Bernal. Let’s see what he is. But I don’t see it.
Could his legacy be both the youngest-ever Tour winner in over a century, and a one-time Tour winner too? That’s some 19th century shit there. Anyway, if Bernal can go all out, he could maybe make it interesting, and if he can’t, then INEOS are just window dressing until the next great winner falls in their laps.
3. Is Ethan Hayter their sprinter?
Short answer is that it sure looks that way. Hayter is an interesting rider, and as he enters his age-25 season (where he will be joined by his brother Leo), he has already racked up some sixteen wins including the overall victory at the Tour de Pologne, his career is off to a flying start. By all appearances he has the chops to fight it out in the bunch gallop, like he did at the Dauphiné where he took a second and third.
But even with that under his belt early on, his direction is a sign of how INEOS does business — by not really taking on typical bunch sprinters. They put up with the ultimate sprint specialist, Mark Cavendish, for all of one year before letting him go find a team that would prioritize his needs. Their greatest one-year winner is Elia Viviani (18 wins in 2017), Viv will be 34 and has functioned OK without a massive entourage for a while, so I guess everyone is on the same page here.
This is a roundabout way of saying that INEOS don’t really have the mentality of a sprinters’ squad, and it’s a surprising thing given the success of British Track Cycling, but it’s to their credit as well. Sprint wins are entertaining but a bit of empty calories too. INEOS don’t need them to bolster their case as a serious team, never have. So if they have a guy who can sprint, scratch the surface and you’ll find he’s got a few other things going on too. Hayter is a classics threat in waiting, or maybe a one-week stage racer thanks to his time trialling. He’s too good to sit around waiting for an entourage to hand him a clear shot at a win.
4. Might They Be the Next Classics Juggernaut?
Oh, well if you want something to be positive about, here’s a pretty delicious subject. Quick Step are always there and Mathieu vs Wout will continue to steal headlines, but if you want to talk about team strength, INEOS might be #1. They can count on Tom Pidcock, all of 22, with three podium finishes on the cobbles. They can apply the pressure with credible alternative threats to win like 20-year-old Magnus Sheffield, Ben Turner or Jhonatan Narvaez. Filippo Ganna is being groomed as a Paris-Roubaix threat. And Hayter.
I feel like I am just throwing spaghetti at the wall, but until they deploy this array of super-talents, I suppose we won’t really know what the plan is. I can say though that it’s one of my favorite storylines for spring 2023.
5. OK, How About Some Kit History?
Yes, let’s! Team Sky were born in 2010 and for years they have been trotting out dark, conservative kits, which just seems super British. If that sounds like a diss, let me just point out that this is what passes muster in Italian cycling:
So maybe our eyeballs should thank Team Sky for giving them an occasionally restful moment. Anyway, let’s do what we do, starting with the latest offering.
2023: That’s it... FIRE!
Is the left sleeve burning? Not sure, but they’ve already been accused of stealing this color scheme from Bahrain, and yeah it’s a bit... problematic. But it’s not ugly at least, and not as boring as ... well, hang on.
2022: Blue Men
I’m down with the varying fonts but the red shoulder thing, crisply defined on one side and faded on the other, seems off to me.
I won’t bother inserting 2021 which was the same color but nearly all blue except for an upside-down V of red behind the team name. If you think the red shoulders in 2022 are bad, then you might like that version. But whatever, let’s skip over to 2020, which had a bit more going on:
2020: Black down low, red up high?
I was a cycling fan before the color fade was a thing. Just saying. But there are worse versions of the fade out there than this reasonably stylish look. This was more or less identical to their 2019 kit, which showed up at some point in the season, although early on they had another look of all black:
And I think there was one with a blue fade in there too, though I can’t seem to place it in the ever-shifting jersey landscape. Anyway, the font stuff is the interesting part I suppose. By default.
And that’s it for INEOS. Let’s go to 2018, the final year of Team Sky:
2018: Little Fluffy Clouds
Aw, they took a year off from being Darth Vader to look all friendly and pleasant. Just a year though.
2017: None More Black
I have literally nothing to say beyond pointing out this fact.
Were the stripes a design thing or just meant to function as a built in safety vest?
2015 and earlier were all black but for a blue accent on one arm. Here’s the 2013 version, which is pretty typical for the entirety of Sky dating back to its 2010 founding.
2013: But I have this stripe
just all black with a blue stripe on one sleeve, so we will skip to
2010-12: Adidas Gorillas
Oh and in 2010 while the front was the same, it was a bit of a party in the back.
Basically they came out of the gate vaguely resembling silverback gorillas (sp. gorilla gorilla) and it might have been a stroke of genius? I don’t know if gorillas evolved to have lighter fur on their backs as a way to minimize solar heating of their bodies, but am pretty sure that’s why Team Sky did it. Black unis were kind of disfavored unless you had a plan to ditch them by early July, if not sooner. Now I think materials are a bit more sophisticated, and kit designers can indulge their hipster New York roots by just piling on the black. But it hasn’t always been a thing.
What’s your favorite Sky/INEOS kit?
This poll is closed
2023: that’s it, FIRE!
2021-22: Blue Men, red fade
2020: Red up high
2020: All black (or mystery blue fade)
2018: Little Fluffy Clouds
2017: none more black
2013: birth of the blue stripe
2010-12: Original G-(orillas)