While Tom Pidcock was storming to the win at Strade Bianche on Saturday, all was not well within the Jumbo-Visma camp.
The Dutch team, which dominated Opening Weekend with ominous back-to-back displays of heavy metal cycling at Omloop Het Nieuwwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, appeared a shadow of their dominant selves, as Kuurne winner Tiesj Benoot and Hungarian champion Attila Valter failed to gel in the finale, enabling Pidcock to hang on for a sensational win.
The lack of harmony between the Jumbo-Visma pair was strikingly evident when Benoot, who had forced a selection on one of the race’s many tough gravel hills, waved his arms in frustration after turning around to see teammate Valter apparently dragging Matej Mohorič and Quinn Simmons back into contention.
While Benoot’s reaction was rather at odds with the reality – Valter was, in fact, bridging across on his own – it epitomised the fractious nature of their relationship as they both vied for the win in Tuscany.
However, speaking to Eurosport, former Groupama-FDJ rider Valter denied that there was any bad blood between the Jumbo-Visma pair.
“It’s clear that I didn’t pull that group back,” the promising 24-year-old said. “It would’ve been an amateur move. I waited until they got tired of the effort on the penultimate gravel sector, and when I saw they are struggling, I jumped to the Benoot group alone. This could clearly be seen on TV too.
“I didn’t see Tiesj’s hand gesture, but later it became clear that he misunderstood the situation, I didn’t even think for one second that he thought I pulled the group back.
“Jumbo-Visma is not the team that does these kind of things and I’m not that man either. Of course, I make mistakes but this wouldn’t have been a mistake, this would’ve been selfishness on my part.
“Naturally I too have individual ambitions, but I’m not a selfish racer, and I was a bit surprised he thought I would do this.
“After the race he told his viewpoint, I told mine, the directors told theirs as well and we had a very positive discussion about what could've been done differently.
“Tiesj even said after the race that this ‘disappointment’ can be a good thing, because had we won the race, our mistakes wouldn’t have been dealt with properly.”
2018 Strade Bianche winner Benoot rues a missed opportunity in Siena (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)
Valter also commented on the vociferous online reaction to the team’s defeat in Tuscany, which he believes is indicative of the stratospheric expectations placed upon Jumbo-Visma and now, by extension, on himself.
“It’s a bit weird for me that the public are talking this much about the mistakes that we made, instead of being happy with the result we achieved,” he said.
“It’s something I have to get used to, but if you look at Wout (van Aert), it’s the same with him. Fans and journalists mock him for coming second in a lot of races, while he is one of the best riders in the world with a lot of victories and beautiful results on his palmares.
“I don’t really like this, but it also makes me proud, because it means I’m on a level where people expect results from me, and that people saw during the race that I was among the strongest riders, and they start to speculate about what could’ve been done differently to win or achieve a better result.
“I can understand this, I’m also a bit like this when I’m watching football. It was maybe a surprise that very many people gave a voice to their opinions publicly, but this shows that cycling is becoming increasingly popular all over the world and in Hungary too. It’s something we have to live with.”