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A team to rival Ineos at the Tour de France. I like the sound of that.
There was Movistar and its lamentable, somewhat floppy trident. And various daring French efforts, agonizingly close and deeply unlikely. When was the last time a Tour de France started with any real question about which team would dominate? You have to go back almost a decade.
Jumbo-Visma built itself organically, nurturing some talent and buying more. It announced Friday that the culmination of this slow rise will come at the 2020 Tour de France, where it plans to field what is, on paper, a team that can truly rival Ineos. Next July, it will bring Tom Dumoulin, Primoz Roglic, and Steven Kruijswijk to the Tour de France. And the moose strength of Tony Martin. And the experience of Robert Gesink, the raw talent of Wout van Aert, and the climbing skills of Laurens de Plus and Sepp Kuss.
The ridiculously early announcement was clearly intended to put its rivals on notice. This is what we have, Jumbo is saying. Come at us.
Ignoring the rampant optimism of announcing your Tour de France squad six months before the actual Tour de France, before half a season of racing and crashing and illnesses, what Jumbo has is a team that appears to rival Ineos where it matters most. It has the climbers, the strongmen, experience and youth. It has all the pieces of the puzzle, something that no Ineos rival has been able to say for nearly a decade.
Dylan Groenewegen is going to the Giro, so Jumbo will arrive in France without any riders dedicated to sprint stages. It’s all-in for yellow, and that seems to be the only way to win the Tour these days.
Ineos hasn’t released its 2020 Tour de France roster yet (because it’s, uh, December), but it appears likely that they’ll have their own trident of GC stars there – Chris Froome, Egan Bernal, and Geraint Thomas. Bernal may race the Giro first. And Froome may not be back to 100% by then. Thomas, for his part, already seems resigned to working for one of his teammates.
The trident never worked for Movistar. But there were clearly personality conflicts at the Spanish squad, which made it difficult to get the team’s stars to ride for the greater good. If we know anything about Ineos and Dave Brailsford, it’s that Ineos will rally behind the strongest man in July, and will not second guess itself.
In addition to its three Tour de France champions, Ineos will still have 2019 Tour starters Michal Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon available. They can call on Giro winner Richard Carapaz to replace super climber Wout Poels, who went off to Bahrain-McLaren. They have Rohan Dennis now, too. The world’s richest team, unsurprisingly, has an incredibly deep bench.
Jumbo-Visma still doesn’t. Last year, Laurens De Plus’ last-minute departure put a massive dent in the team’s Tour strength. The roster is stronger this year, but a few crashes or illnesses would still quickly downgrade them to pretender status.
The bigger issue for Jumbo, though, is the trident model itself. Kruijswijk is apparently focused primarily on the Vuelta a Espana, and will, therefore, play a support role in July, but Roglic and Dumoulin will both enter the race expecting to win.
Each has one grand tour win to his name. They have similar styles, so the route doesn’t necessarily suit one more than the other.
Multiple GC threats can be an effective tactic. Or it can make each GC riders less threatening. “Let the road decide” only works when both riders are fully prepared to accept the road’s decision, quickly and without argument.
And then there’s the real problem: someone still has to keep up with Egan Bernal.