A Danish fish farmer, a Slovenian ski jumper and an American mountain biker walk into a World Tour cycling team. It may seem like a poorly constructed set-up, but these three riders would go on to lead said team in one of the most dominant seasons in the history of professional cycling. Richard Plugge’s Team Jumbo-Visma has rampaged through the 2022/23 World Tour calendar, clocking up 65 victories to date in Grand Tours, Monuments, and stage races across Europe. When Colorado-born Sepp Kuss crossed the Vuelta a España finish line in Madrid, Jumbo-Visma became the first team in history to win all three Grand Tours, namely the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta, in a single season. Not only did they win, the Dutch team filled out the top three steps of the podium with their two other Grand Tour winners, Dane Jonas Vingegaard and Slovenian Primož Roglič. It typified a season that has seen Jumbo-Visma sweep all in its path.
The team’s accolades seem endless. Three Jumbo riders adorned the podium at the European Road Championships last month, all representing different nations. Newly crowned European champion Christophe Laporte has demonstrated his capabilities in one-day events and stage races, taking the crown at Dwars door Vlanderen and Gent-Wevelgem in the same week, as well as two stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné. In Olav Kooij, they have a sprinter capable of comfortably holding his own with the best in the world, earning eleven victories so far this season. Of the eight stages of the Tour of Britain, Jumbo-Visma claimed five, as well as the overall victory with van Aert. The strength in depth of the squad was never clearer than during the French and Spanish Grand Tours, when Jumbo used its roster to perfection in systematically wearing down the generational talents of Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel with ruthless efficiency.
This dominance inevitably leads to questions. It is a squad brimming with talent, and, by extension, egos, both of which can lead to tensions and infighting that can tear organisations apart. Jumbo-Visma went, almost unwittingly, into the Vuelta with three joint leaders, a situation which risked them losing the race lead when the three riders nearly came to blows on the fearsome Angliru during stage 17. The Jumbo-Visma squad now boasts three repeat Grand Tour winners, one of whom holds the Olympic Time Trial title, three national champions, and a European champion to name but a few highlights of their palmarès, all of whom could take the team to victory in any number of different races. One must ask how tenable this is.
Cracks seem to be already emerging in the yellow and black façade. This week, following his victory at the Giro dell’Emilia, Primož Roglič announced that he would be leaving for German team Bora-Hansgrohe where the prospects of sole leadership are more promising. This news comes amidst the ongoing rumours of a merger between Jumbo-Visma and Patrick Lefevre’s Soudal-Quick Step, the second most successful team this season. Said merger could put more than half the rostered rider’s contracts in jeopardy, not to mention the impact it would have on the image of the sport in seasons to come. In tandem with the loss of Roglič, the team recently lost key domestique Nathan van Hooydonck, who is recovering from a traffic collision which occurred last month.
Despite Jumbo’s current pool of riders, and their flawless record, the team’s future remains up in the air, possibly at an existential level, and its current dominance is balanced on a fragile pedestal.
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