The former Team Ineos coach Rod Ellingworth believes his new Bahrain McLaren team can compete with the best as they prepare for their long-awaited debut in the 2020 season.
Bahrain McLaren will take over from the existing Bahrain-Merida team and McLaren announced their ambitious plans to “disrupt” the world of cycling as they enter the sport. The team is a 50-50 joint venture between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the McLaren Group.
“I think from the outset we’re capable of taking them on,” said Ellingworth. “It’s about getting your key riders on the line in good condition, good health. I think if we’re in that situation, we stand every chance of taking them on.
“Next year’s tour, I think it’s a real challenging tour. It’s a different race from what we’ve seen in the past but I do think we’ve got an opportunity. Do I see us as underdogs? I see ourselves as a new thriving team with lots of energy and we’re gonna go for it.”
McLaren premiered their new team at the McLaren Thought Leadership Centre and identified their defining trait as bringing fresh innovation to the sport, driven by technology utilised in F1. Bahrain McLaren’s new technical director, Duncan Bradley, said composite technology, data analytics and aerodynamics are areas that will help them stamp their mark on the sport. “Together we believe that there is a disruptive opportunity for us to take on the might of very, very successful competitors,” Bradley said.
Although the joint venture was pitched as “a new era of cycling”, the team includes established names on and off the bike, starting with the longtime Team Ineos coach Ellingworth joining as team manager alongside Bradley as technical director. Bahrain McLaren have invested in Mikel Landas, Wout Poels and Mark Cavendish. They join the sprinters Sonny Colbrelli and Phil Bauhaus plus the Tour de France stage winner Dylan Teuns.
“It’s quite clear the ambition within the team,” said Ellingworth. “We want to become a grand tour-winning team.”
The great unknown is the 30-times Tour de France stage winner Cavendish, who continues his search to rediscover his speed and competitiveness. Such is the 34-year-old’s pull that he was instrumental in the team’s formation. Cavendish has been affiliated with McLaren since 2011 and he initiated contact between McLaren and his former coach Ellingworth, whom he jokingly calls one of the “few people in the world who upset me: [the other] is my grandmother”.
Cavendish has struggled over the past few years after fracturing his shoulder in a bad crash in the 2017 Tour de France and being diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus the year after. The sprinter’s career hit a nadir this summer when he was left off the Dimension Data team for the Tour de France and they parted ways later in the year. He seems optimistic that his new team and old bonds will bring the best out of him again.
“I’m fortunate to have raced for some of the biggest teams in cycling. You see little things at different teams and you realise: ‘Ah, that makes them successful.’ When you can come to a relatively new team but a whole new philosophy on a team and you see all of those things in one place, it gets you quite excited.”
Just hours before Bahrain McLaren’s official announcement, Team Ineos broke the news that they had signed the time trial world champion, Rohan Dennis, who dramatically walked out on his Bahrain-Merida team midway through the Tour de France in July and has not competed for them since.
Bahrain McLaren does not officially form until 1 January but the battles have already begun.