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A Brief History of Jumbo Visma Never Winning the Tour de France

Maybe it’s their time, but can we stop and complain about how long it is taking?

Cycling : Tour De France 2006 / Stage 17 Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images

A long time ago (1984), in what feels like a galaxy far away (the 80s generally), a guy who represented the Kwantum department store was riding his bike in Amsterdam when suddenly another rider who worked for the Decosol window covering company came out of nowhere and crashed into the first guy. The first guy exclaimed “you got your handlebars in my wheel!” and the second guy yelled “you hit my frame with your cranks!” and then they realized that, together, they had all the parts necessary to start the Kwantum-Decosol Cycling Team.

Or maybe the first guy was Jan Raas on his way from a meeting where once and for all he told Peter Post what so many people in professional cycling had longed to tell Peter Post, which was, to put it in polite terms, that he was never going to work with him again. And the second guy was an agent with solid connections to half of the Ti-Raleigh roster, and together, once they got up off the ground, they realized that they actually did have enough of what they needed to start a professional cycling team. Anyway, that’s the origin story of Kwantum-Decosol, which became... a bunch of things, then Rabobank, then some more shit and finally the Jumbo-Visma juggernaut that just took control of the 2022 Tour de France.

Presentation of Dutch cycling teams Raleigh and Frisol
Raas, left, before ditching Post
Photo by: Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

And yet, for all of their history, which includes taking big swings at the Tour de France more often than not, this team has never won the Tour and until recently had never really come all that close. In nearly 40 years, they haven’t won a race that typically has about 20 teams. Even the simplest odds would say they should have a couple maillot jaunes hanging on the wall by now. And those odds would be wrong.

For Jumbo and its antecedents, that’s not just a run of bad luck. It’s a Cleveland Browns-level run of fan torture that stands above and beyond what anyone else can possibly complain about. This is the second-oldest team in the peloton, and until Steven Kruijswijk came along they had one lousy podium place — third, inherited by Denis Menchov in 2008 when Bernie Köhl got popped for doping and Menchov didn’t (until later). Primož Roglič has now been second and fourth, and Vingegaard added his second place last year, and things are starting to look respectable. But only just now, and only if you don’t compare their history to pretty much every other team at the Tour.

Jelle Nijdam, left, in Buckler colors
Photo credit should read DANIEL JANIN/AFP via Getty Images

A Look At Kwantum-Rabo-Lotto-Jumbo At the Tour

Before 2019 were they ever even interesting? Apart from stage wins — which we aren’t talking about, we are talking about yellow jerseys, but if you’re so curious, they have a healthy 63 stage victories all time — there are few highlights and not even all that many close calls.

In their inaugural season you might have thought they were really going somewhere when Kwantum-Decosol riders Jacques Hanegraaf and Adrie van der Poel shared the yellow jersey across stages 2-4... and you might even tack on Ludo Peeters’ win in stage 1 for the Superconfex team that later got absorbed by the Jumbo colossus. Not too shabby!

From there, the team’s continued GC relevance was limited to Jelle Nijdam sneaking into yellow for a day or two in both 1987 and ‘88 following early stage wins (he was a top cronoman). Then nothing until Marc Wouters won a stage and grabbed yellow for a day in 2001 when the team had finally transformed into Rabobank. Mind you, they participated in the Tour ever year.

Then things get a bit more interesting, but just. Starting in 2001, Rabobank began to offer up plausible(ish) contenders for yellow. Sure, the Armstrong Era felt like victory was locked down, but Rabo was among the many teams making a run at it regardless, with guys like Levi Leipheimer, Michael Rasmussen and Denis Menchov. I won’t bore you with missed hypothetical chances in the Lance years or the 2006 mess, but Leipheimer — before he was retroactively disqualified years later — was smack in the middle of one of the Tour’s greatest and most exciting stages, the 2007 concluding time trial won by Leipheimer where he, Evans and Contador all seemed on the verge of virtual yellow at certain points and ended up separated by 31” total. Leipheimer came into Paris third of the three. And now his name appears in strikeout.

For two of the next three years, Rabobank had Menchov stalking the GC guys, and with no strong favorite he might have... well, eventually been disqualified from a win instead of second and fourth. Around then Robert Gesink showed up, someone without the doper profile, and if you could have combined his climbing with the Russian’s time trial prowess, Rabo might have scored a win. But you couldn’t, and that was that. Rabo’s cheating history finally caught up to them and the team was sent into the sponsorship wilderness, staving off extinction a handful of times, before the sport got control of doping in a way that was satisfactory to the national lottery to jump in and from 2015 the team began building toward what we see today.

The record says that they didn’t so much as touch the maillot jaune from Wouters’ magical day in 2001 until Mike Teunissen won a crash-filled opening stage sprint in 2019 and put himself into yellow for a couple days. Nearly as magical was the overall campaign of Steven Kruijswijk, whose third place that same year counted as the team’s first ever non-canceled podium finish! What a way to celebrate their 35th anniversary!

And now they are the heavyweight team of the Tour, for the time being at least. So, in summary, as they approach their 40th birthday and are actually, for the moment, in position to win the Tour, Team Jumbo-Lotto-Rabo-Kwantum have really done a remarkable job of going decades on end of never really approaching this status until now.

Is This At All Normal? A Look At Their Competition

How do the Jumbos and their rather slow-baking history of excellence compare to the rest of the peloton? Here is a team-by-team historical rundown — again, just talking about the general classification:

  • UAE date back to 1999 if you count the Lampre years, which you should, and of course they were far too Italian to win the Tour back then, but now Pogacar has turned the tide with a pair of victories.
  • INEOS go back to 2010 and are sporting about a 50% hit rate. It’s kind of insane. Let’s move on...
  • AG2R dates back to the Chazal team founded in 1992, and suffered during the doping era from any number of disadvantages, but they have three podium finishes in the last 7 editions.
  • Bora only dates back to 2010 and didn’t get a Tour invite until 2014, in which time they haven’t challenged for yellow.
  • Quick Step aren’t as old as you might think, unless you start doing the Mapei math, which would buy them some more history beyond 2003. But whatever, their brand has been downright dismissive of grand tours and their delayed gratification.
  • Movistar are downright ancient, beginning as Reynolds in 1980, and first won the Tour in 1988 at the hands of Pedro Delgado, then added five more with Miguel Indurain, and a seventh, albeit through the back-dooriest of back doors, by Oscar Pereiro.
  • Cofidis date back to 1997 with one podium finish, Bobby Julich’s third place, in 1998.
  • Bahrain really just started in 2017 and have no serious challenges to their name.
  • FDJ: another Class of 1997, and like Cofidis, just the one third place to show for it (Pinot in 2014).
  • Alpecin, on its second ever Tour. Van der Poel held yellow last year, which was pretty cool, but they aren’t a GC team yet.
  • DSM is new to the top level (though it began in 1999 as Batavus-Bankgiroloterij) and has a second overall from Dumoulin in 2018. They revived the old Skil-Shimano brand from the 1980s and if you wanted to ignore the lack of actual lineage you could add in Sean Kelly’s fourth place in 1985. Realistically they have 11 Tour participations so a podium spot in there is a decent record.
  • Intermarché has a 14-year history starting from Continental status and is on its fifth Tour. They aren’t chasing yellow.
  • Astana... now things get complicated. They were resuscitated out of the ashes of Liberty Seguros, which used to be ONCE, but they also grabbed on to the remains of RadioShack, and as such they can count two Tour wins: 2009 (Contador) and 2014 (Nibali). Alex Zülle got close back in the day.
  • EF Education have a pair of podium finishes at the Tour, starting with Sir Bradley Wiggins taking third in 2009.
  • Arkea trace their roots to 2005 but have been riding the Tour starting in 2014, with one top ten to their name.
  • Lotto go back to 1985 and had only Claude Criquelion’s ninth place to show for their efforts until Cadel Evans made them relevant with a pair of second place finishes.
  • Trek-Segafredo are the successors to the Layopard team which broke off from CSC (among others) to found itself anew around the Schlecks in 2011. They have Andy’s second place that year to their credit.
  • TotalEnergies date back to 2000, debuting as Team Bonjour, and have been Brioches La Boulangere, Bouygues Telecom, and Europcar, during which they... hung around the fringes of the Tour every year. Fittingly enough, Thomas Voeckler’s fourth place in 2011 is the franchise high water mark.
  • Israel-Premier Tech are on their third Tour, and Simon Clarke’s recent stage win is their first impression on the race.
  • Team BikeExchange, née GreenEdge (do they save money by not using spaces?) has been at the Tour for a decade and has an Adam Yates fourth place as their best effort so far.
  • B&B Hotels are just a few years old and have two unremarkable Tours on their record.

So has anyone done less with more? Movistar are the only team with more Tour starts than the Jumbo franchise, and their seven wins put them in the inner circle of success (******ENORMOUS ASTERISKS*******). Everyone else is newer and either no worse off or not even interested. Lotto are actually on par with Jumbo’s record... and that’s not company you want to be keeping. To be fair, only four of these teams have Tour trophies on their shelves back home. In the history of Jumbo and its predecessors, they have contended with La Vie Claire, Banesto, Telekom, US Postal and Team Sky hoarding yellow jerseys. Teams that get there even once are joining a club that’s a tad more exclusive than, say, Super Bowl winners. So just pointing at them and saying “hahaha! You never won the Tour!” is a little ridiculous with 18 other teams in the same boat. But nobody has quite Jumbo’s run of futility either.

No Longer Team Blanco!
Photo credit should read ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP via Getty Images

But... WHY?!?

Of course, part of this is simply the team’s Dutch lineage — it can’t be great to come from a country that is largely below sea level if you want to win races that top out at 2500 meters. However, if you watch television, you know that the solution to a zany scheme gone awry is an even zanier scheme, so it naturally follows that the Dutch squad might finally pull through thanks to hiring a rider from an even flatter country than the Netherlands.

Another part of it is bad luck. Their history is long enough to encompass the entire history of EPO, so grading their performance is tricky. It’s safe to say that they didn’t profit at all from the atmosphere of cheating — others did it better and won races that they either did or didn’t renounce later but at least they had fun at the time. Rabobank simply weren’t as good as US Postal or Telekom when it came to “preparing” their guys. And they got destroyed for it all anyway, needing years to rebuild back to a competitive level. Compare that to Movistar, who coincidentally stopped winning Tours right around when police started raiding hotel rooms, but haven’t apologized or lost their sponsor, and they aren’t giving back any of Indurain’s five trophies. There’s probably even an Oscar Pereiro Wing of the Movistar Museum in, I dunno, probably Murcia somewhere.

Anyway, as a fan of the Boston Red Sox I can tell you that, while not all losing streaks have to end, most of them eventually do, and when they do it can be sweeter than sweet. When it does finally happen, you can feel the energy shifting. Is the Jumbo Visma energy shifting? I don’t know for sure, but it feels as good as it can be. They have a confident leader, which is critical because the guy they are chasing is New York Yankees-level confident and isn’t going down without a serious fight.

109th Tour de France 2022 - Stage 12 Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

But Jumbo, of course, are deep and committed. They are down to one single agenda with no questions, no sidebars, nothing but yellow. They have numerous riders just going all out every day, and if anyone weren’t giving their all, it feels like Wout Van Aert would fight them outside the team bus. Just yesterday I heard an interview with Sepp Kuss, the American climbing domestique, and he was speaking with a light Dutch accent. All the signs are there. We have about a week to go before we know if there’s another verse to this dirge or if it’s time to put the subject to rest. Stay tuned.