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Offseason Capsule: Jumbo-Visma

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It doesn’t take any Dutch courage to predict a big year

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Twenty One Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Let’s take Andrew’s earlier premise about building a PdC cycling team but instead of having a bespoke team, let’s say you have the choice of buying any team roster in the World Tour with the parameters being you want a versatile, young, international, and winning team. And let’s add one more parameter-- you want a cohesive team, i.e. ruling out UAE. For my money, there is only one team that hits all of those marks. Sky is too focused on grand tours and don’t have a winning sprinter or deep classics squad. Mitchelton-Scott is the Five Below version of Sky. Movistar is the dime store version of Sky. UAE is the dumpster fire version of Sky. AG2R are strong in the mountains and in classics, but lacking a sprinter. Quick-Step have the sprinting and classics on lockdown, but only Enric Mas for the GC. Sunweb are young and versatile, but have dismantled their cobbles squad. Really, that leaves Jumbo-Visma, the team that surprised last year with their competitiveness throughout the season and who significantly bolstered their roster during the off-season.

What we said last year

Andrew was mostly right in assessing the outlook for 2018, suggesting that it would look “a hair better” than 2017 with Groenewegen being competitive in sprints, Van Poppel doing well in the easier classics and with spring being tough for the team. Andrew further suggested that Roglic would have the chance to “join the elite.” However, his thoughts about this team missing out on the coming Dutch hegemony were off the mark.

What we got in 2018

On paper, Andrew was right-- 2018 looked a lot like 2017 but a hair better. They went from 26 victories to 33 victories and from 11th to 8th in FSA-DS ranking. However, this was also a team that looked almost completely different-- filled with youthful promise and capable of contending in the biggest of races, whether in bunch sprints or at the grand tours.

It was a rough start for LottoNL-Jumbo after a sleeping pill incident in which they released Juan Jose Lobato and suspended two of their young riders-- Pasckal Eenkhoorn and Antwan Tolhoek. But things went well for the team on the road-- picking up their first victories in the pre-season at Valenciana and Dubai and a victory on the real opening weekend of the race season at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. Jumbo continued to pick up wins consistently throughout the season all the way up through Guangxi, with about a third of the wins being at the World Tour level.

FSA-DS Ranking 2018

8th with 8,379 points.

An average ranking that belies the improvement that this squad saw in 2018. In 2017, they were 11th with 7,205 points. In 2016, they were 10th with 7,064 points. In 2015, they were 15th with 4,639 points. This is a team on the ascendancy and in vds may be the Astana of 2018 in 2019 with many cheaper desirable riders with players needing to pick the right one.

Top Highlights

1. The most exciting buddy film of 2018- What happens when a ski jumper and a sufferer of chionophobia join forces at the biggest bike race of the year?

Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Never have 2 riders made finishing just off the podium as exciting as Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk did at the Tour this year. Roglic finished in 4th and only a team time trial away from taking the podium spot from Froome. And he did so with style, by attacking and holding off the chase on the Lourdes stage. Meanwhile Kruijswijk went on a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attack on the Alpe d’Huez stage, losing time but adding excitement to the race.

Kruijswijk would follow up his Tour with a 4th place at the Vuelta, producing his most successful season to date. Roglic preceded his Tour with victory at 3 one-week stage races, including both Basque Country and Romandie. Both riders are still in their prime and should be able to build on their success in the coming season, particularly with the amount of young mountain helpers that Jumbo has brought in for them.

George Bennett also adds a third amigo to Jumbo’s GC leaders, after his 8th in the Giro. For a team that has not as of late been GC-oriented, finishing no worse than 8th in each of the grand tours counts as a very successful season.

2. 2 Tour stage victories for Groenewegen.

There’s a case to be made that Groenewegen was the most successful, but not most prolific, sprinter of last season. The Muscle Hamster, see Footnote 1, only raced 64 days last year, but won 14 times. In comparison, Viviani, the consensus pick for most dominant sprinter of last year raced 85 days and won 18 times, leaving Groenewegen with the slightly higher win percentage. And Groenewegen beat Viviani head to head in a bunch sprint at Paris-Nice. Moreover, Groenewegen won at the Tour against the best sprinting field twice. Add to that a victory at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne and a smattering of other world tour victories and it equals a great season for Groenewegen. Groenewegen should be included in the new pantheon of the best sprinters, with him, Viviani and Gaviria replacing Cavendish, Kittel, and Greipel.

3. Long term sponsorship secured.

It’s damn hard out there to be an owner of a cycling team in 2019. Patrick Lefevre had a hard time securing a sponsor for a squad that couldn’t find a way to lose a race. Sky no longer want anything to do with the team that has won the Tour six out of the last seven years. At least 3 of the World Tour teams are supported by dictator-bucks. Jonathan Vaughters had to take money from a book-burning, anti-teacher company (Fuck Education First). Thus, when the former Rabobank team was able to secure a new 5 year contract with a Dutch supermarket chain as well as co-sponsorship from a Norwegian software company, it was a pretty big deal for the team. This is a team that can now afford to nurture its talent and create a team focused on both longevity and results.

Bottom Lowlights

1. Sleeping pill scandal.

It’s never a good look for a cycling team to start the year with a drug scandal, but at least it was Ambien and not Erythropoietin after the three riders were found to be in possession of the sleep aid at a training camp. In the end, however, the team used this incident to their advantage as they were able to fire Lobato who was underperforming and apparently laden with other baggage of the personal— not drug— kind.

2. Boom went bust.

Some might say 2018 was Boom’s worst year. Those people, however, clearly don’t remember the world champion mullet year.
Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images

After winning the Tour of Britain and a stage of Binck Bank at the end of 2017, the team was likely expecting more fireworks from Lars Boom. Instead, the most memorable moments from the mercurial former cyclocross world champ was Boom pulling a Doom in a fan’s camper at the Vuelta and pulling a BouBou on Preben Van Hecke in Norway.

3. Groenewegen abandons Tour in the great sprinter massacre of 2018.

Two wins could have been so much more if only Groenewegen hadn’t crashed on the Roubaix stage of the Tour, leading to his withdrawal in the Alps. With the sprinting field decimated, he was all but guaranteed at least two more stages.

Comings and goings for 2019

Ins: Tony Martin (Katusha), Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems), Mike Teunissen (Sunweb), Taco Van der Hoorn (Roompot), Laurens De Plus (Quick-Step), Lennard Hofstede (Sunweb), Jonas Vingegaard (ColoQuick).

Outs: Lars Boom (Roompot), Bram Tankink (retired), Stef Clement (retired), Enrico Battaglin (Katusha), Robert Wagner (Arkea Samsic), Gijs Van Hoecke (CCC).

Renewals: Steven Kruijswijk, Robert Gesink, Floris De Tier, Amund Grondahl Jansen, Jos Van Emden, Maarten Wynants, Daan Olivier, Bert-Jan Lindeman.

What an offseason for the former yellow Lottos. They went from having no cobbles squad to having one of the most intriguing. Grabbing Van Aert after the Aqua Blue-Sniper Cycling fracas was a great coup by the team. He should slot in right away as the leader on the cobbles. Teunissen, a former winner of the Paris-Roubaix espoirs finally started to show some of his potential last season with an 11th at Roubaix as well as a second at Dwars door Vlaanderen. In my opinion, Van der Hoorn is one of the best under the radar signings of the offseason and not just for the opportunity to have fun with his name. He was injured for most of the season and did not start riding until August. In 19 race days total, he was able to take two wins-- at a stage of Binck Bank and at the Primus Classic while also racking up top 10 placings in 5 other races. And, while we may laugh at the prospect of calling Tony Martin a cobbles star, make no mistake about him being a very valuable domestique to have on the cobbles. Moreover, while he’s never going to reclaim his title as the best time trialer on the planet, the move away from Katusha is one of the smartest any rider can make.

Most intriguing rider(s for vds)

Let’s do a little something different for this section of the capsule. Jumbo, like Astana last year, are going to have many riders that are going to be desirable to select in FSA DS (Ursula willing). I’m going to go through a list of who I think are going to be the best deals (again, Ursula willing). And remember, this is just for entertainment purposes-- follow my selections at your own peril as I did not pick the right Stani last year.

1. Primoz Roglic

The rider with the former profession that you never get tired of hearing about is not going to be cheap this year. Not after scoring close to 1,900 points last year. However, Roglic has progressed in each season and there’s no reason to think he can’t win the Giro, where his climbing ability, attacking nature, and time trial proficiency should make him one of the favorites. His multi-talentedness also makes him able to pick up points throughout the year, not just at the grand tours, and if he makes it onto the single-restricted rider category, he will be a great selection to center your team around.

Likely vds price: 28

Buy vds price: 24

2. Dylan Groenewegen

Spoiler alert -- as soon will be revealed in the predictions post, I think Groenewegen is going to be the best sprinter of 2019. What does being the best sprinter translate into vds points? I’ll say somewhere between one trick pony Kittel’s best season and the versatile Viviani’s best. If Ursula is to be trusted and he’s not restricted, he’s a buy all the way.

Likely vds price: 16

Buy vds price: 16

3. Wout Van Aert

There was a certain frustration of having Van Aert on your vds team last year. Knowing he is one of the better riders on your team and that he can score points in any race he enters but seeing him in only 26 race days. Still, a 770 point haul is not bad for a 2 pointer, but you start to get vds stars in your eyes when you think about extrapolating that efficiency over a full season. Whether he’s a buy candidate all comes down to whether you think he can improve on the racing he did last season (he can) and whether he’ll race more on the road this year.

Likely vds price: 12

Buy vds price: 10

4. Taco van der Hoorn

Speaking of racing efficiency, van der Hoorn got more value from his truncated race season last year than you can get from a shitty mexican fast food chain’s value menu. Barring injury, he’ll have many more race days this year. But there are many mouths to feed in the classics at Jumbo and only so many Chalupa Supremes ™ to go around.

Likely vds price: 6

Buy vds price: 4

5. Sepp Kuss

While no points were won by the young American at the Vuelta last year, he looked damn good in helping Kruijswijk up the muritos of Spain. Almost all of his 294 points were won in his dominant performance in Utah (discounting the points won at Hammer Time). The question will be whether he can translate his domestique and American powers into winning some of the one week stage races in Europe next year. If so, Kuss could be a great value pick.

Likely vds price: 4

Buy vds price: 2

6. Amund Grondahl Jansen

The current leadout man for Groenewegen and former leadout man for Kristoffer Halvorsen at Norwegian pro-conti Joker may have earned himself the opportunity to ride for himself a little more this year, particularly in the fall where Groenewegen is slated to head to the Vuelta without him. 16th last year in Paris-Roubaix, while he may be able to get a one off result in a stacked Spring classics team, if he indeed gets leadership in the Fall Belgian SSRs, he could easily get over 500 points.

Likely vds price: 2

Buy vds price: 1

Smart vds players will ignore all the above and be drinking champagne at the end of the season because they realize that Bobo is back, baby!
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

So, what happens next?

In 2015, it would have been considered the height of insanity to believe that Jumbo would soon be fielding a team that could be in the competition to win on almost every race day. In a sport where most teams are apparently run by deranged chimpanzees throwing around money as they would hurl their feces, Team Manager Richard Plugge has been quietly making some very smart decisions and assembling a team with a bevy of promising young riders. all on a fraction of the budget of when this team was Rabobank. The turnaround is even more amazing considering that Plugge was handed the reins of the team in a ploy right out of The Hudsucker Proxy— with him set up to fail and the team designed to fade away and take with it the stench of the doping scandals. Instead, Plugge has plugged away at nurturing and growing young talent into the current roster. Also, it doesn’t hurt that there has been an apparent in flux of money to the team as they would not have been able to sign Van Aert otherwise (despite what Van Aert might say by being won over by the team’s plan and not their money bags). This is now a team that feels on the verge of a breakout season where they finish in the front of the pack and compete with the more traditionally successful teams.

Groenewegen, who still counts as one of the young riders at 25 years old, should alone be able to provide them with a floor of 15 wins-- and will be expected to bring home at least two stages of the Tour and perhaps even more in the Vuelta, which he will ride for the first time and which offers the sprinters more opportunities than ever. Van Poppel offers them one of the better backup sprinting options, and after a year where he rode two grand tours and competed in bunch sprints that were slightly outside his wheelhouse, if Jumbo employ him in some of the harder sprint races, he should be able to easily best his 3 wins from last year.

Roglic, Kruijswijk, and Bennett provide them with a trident of GC leaders that Movistar could only hope for. It’s not easy to win a grand tour, but Roglic gives Jumbo the best opportunity to do so since a snow bank took out Kruijswijk. The Giro, with its abundance of time trial kilometers, lack of pressure, and liberal racing could see Roglic in pink at the end in Verona.

The cobbled classics team of The Panz, a Jans, and 3 Vans (and Mike) is the most unproven facet of Jumbo but are loaded with talent on paper. Van Aert provides them with a leader for the next three years while the support riders provide them with options that are deeper than any other team not named Quick Step.

So, let’s make a specific prediction of what success will look like for Jumbo this year just so whoever writes the 2020 capsule can call out my hubris and foolishness. Jumbo will get a podium in a grand tour, will win a major cobbled classic or monument, and will win the most stages at the Tour.

Footnote 1:

I could have sworn that this was a known nickname for Groenewegen, but it may just be my nickname for him. I may have been thinking of Daniel Friebe calling him the Atomic Tadpole on The Cycling Podcast or confusing him for former Tampa Bay Buccaneer running back Doug Martin. When I searched for the term, all I came up with was this article, which calls him “A nice Dutch muscle ball,” at least according to the Google gnomes. Also of note from that article, again according to the gnomes, “Groenewegen could have played playboys… in films for young girls in bloom with only eyes for his boils.” I knew I was out of touch with what teenagers were into these days, but had no idea how out of touch I truly am.