Just under a minute after Jasper Philipsen crossed the line on the Champs-Élysées, securing his second victory of the 2022 Tour de France and the first of his young career on that hallowed sprinting ground, Jumbo-Visma’s remaining riders came into view, riding together arm-in-arm in the fading sunlight of the Parisian evening.
The achievements of those five riders, as well as the three non-finishers who played their part during the last three weeks, is worth repeating: six stage wins (with three different riders), the ‘super combatif’ prize, the polka-dot jersey, the green jersey and, of course, the yellow jersey.
The 2022 Tour de France belonged to Jumbo-Visma. There’s no disputing that. The story of how the Dutch super team, a squad previously beset by chaotic near misses and haunted by its past, came to dominate the fastest ever edition of cycling’s biggest race, and did so in swashbuckling style, has two beginnings.
A.S.O., Pauline Ballet
The first takes place on a Lombardian roadside, in May 2019, during stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia. On the Civiglio, with around 20km remaining, the team’s sports director, Addy Engels, stops for a pee.
Right as Engels is answering the call of nature, a message comes through the radio: the squad’s leader Primož Roglič, who started the day only seven seconds down on pink jersey Richard Carapaz, has broken his bike. To make matters worse, on the descent, Roglič – riding his teammate’s ill-fitting bike – crashes, as the delayed team car frantically rushes to his aid. The Slovenian ends up losing 40 seconds. By the finish in Verona, Roglič, who had entered the Giro as one of the favourites after a dominant spring, occupied the third step on the podium, foiled by misfortune and tactical naivety.
While the late-blooming Slovenian’s relatively stress-free domination of the Vuelta a España and most week-long stage races since then has certainly hinted at the potential for ruthless domination, until this summer Jumbo-Visma’s modus operandi on the biggest stage has seemed to be focused on snatching cruel defeat from the jaws of victory.
The most striking example of this, of course, was the shock and awe inflicted on Roglič, looking until that very moment every inch the Tour winner, by compatriot Tadej Pogačar during that infamous Planche des Belle Filles time trial at the 2020 race.
Up to stage 20, Jumbo-Visma had consummately followed the Official Team Sky Guide to Winning the Tour de France in the 2010s, setting a blistering if steady tempo as Roglič chipped away at his rivals bit by bit. But someone neglected to tell them that this was the 2020s, and Pogačar’s sudden hammer blow was a sign of the changing times.
Last year, Jumbo’s plan for revenge was thwarted by a race-ending crash for Roglič, who was beginning to make a habit of falling out of contention, having lost Paris-Nice on the final day earlier in the spring in similar circumstances. Jonas Vingegaard’s podium-saving stand-in performance, however, and the willingness of the then-unheralded Dane to take it to Pogačar on the hardest climbs ended up a portent of things to come.
But still, Jumbo-Visma’s stated aim to target both the yellow and green jerseys at this year’s Tour, with the three-pronged leadership of Vingegaard, Roglič and Wout van Aert, raised more than a few eyebrows. The Dutch team, certainly, had the strongest all-round team – but we were in the Pogačar era now, and resistance appeared to be futile.
Even in the early days of this year’s race, chaos still followed the Jumbo-Visma like an old friend.
While the first few stages resembled opening night of Wout van Aert’s one-man show, the treacherous cobbled trek to Arenberg – and in particular the frenzied, almost cartoonish image of more than half of the team confused and scattered to the four winds, running across the road in a desperate bike-swap meltdown following a Vingegaard mechanical – was classic Jumbo-Visma.
Meanwhile, Roglič’s annual date with disaster – this time crashing into a haybale that had strayed into the road, dislocating his shoulder and eventually prompting a belated abandon over a week later – also simply appeared par for the course. We knew this would happen, no matter how much Van Aert can blow up the race up on a Cat 4 into Calais. When it really matters, chaos reigns.
By the end of the Tour’s first week, the writing was on the wall. Pogačar was, as ever, the dominant force, stamping his authority on every stage he could and bending the race to his will; a race, in GC terms anyway, that had seemed to pass Jumbo-Visma by.
Then the Alps happened – and everything we assumed about the trajectory of cycling over the next decade changed, changed utterly. After years of being at the mercy of chaos, Jumbo-Visma finally turned the tables, wreaking uncontrollable havoc on the peloton, and in particular an unsuspecting Pogačar.
On the Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier, they set a new template for grand tour racing in the 2020s. Vingegaard and Roglič (who by just staying in the race, injured but close enough on GC to keep Pogačar’s UAE Team Emirates’ directors on high alert, swung the momentum irrevocably in his younger teammate’s favour) unleashed attack after attack on the two-time defending champion, softening him up bit by bit, indulging his seemingly irrepressible racing instincts to the point of cracking.
And crack he did – Vingegaard’s final move on the Col du Granon was as devastating as it was unexpected. Pogačar is Pogačar and the Tour is the Tour, we reminded ourselves, but the race for yellow was effectively over before it had left the Alps.
On the Granon, the Slovenian’s jersey flapped open as a scant defence against both the Dane’s attack and the stifling heatwave that had engulfed France, his famed youthful exuberance (which arguably resulted in an overabundance of attacks in the opening week) giving way to a desperation. Baby-faced Vingegaard, on the other hand, was as cool as ice.
While Pogačar continued to dazzle for the rest of the race, and even picked up a hard-fought consolation stage at Peyragudes to add to his two wins earlier in the race, the boy-king finally proved he was human.
Jumbo-Visma, meanwhile, were mercilessly infallible. Apart from one swiftly corrected misjudgement on the descent of the Col de Spandelles, Vingegaard never once looked in danger, or even troubled, when Pogačar valiantly if vainly tried his luck on almost every stage, while Van Aert continued to redefine, with every pedal stroke it seemed, what it means to be a pro bike racer.
Christophe Laporte’s Cancellara-esque surge to the line in Cahors, holding off the fast-finishing Philipsen, underlined the team’s utter dominance of this year’s race (Laporte’s win came either side of almost routine one-two victories for the team courtesy of Vingegaard and Van Aert).
By breaking clear as all hell broke loose behind, the revitalised French superdomestique’s stunning stage win perfectly summed up his team’s new-found ability to finally, and almost completely, take advantage of the chaos of the modern Tour.
Racing against shadows
The other beginning to Jumbo-Visma’s success story at the Tour de France begins in the Pyrenees, not far from where Vingegaard secured his second stage win of this year’s race on the Hautacam.
On 25 July 2007, Rabobank, as the long-running Dutch team were then known, sensationally kicked their Danish leader Michael Rasmussen out of the Tour mere days away from securing overall victory.
Glory Cycles, Flickr
Rasmussen, a gifted climber prone, like the modern incarnation of his team, to colossal gaffes while in strong positions (look up the final TT of the 2005 Tour on YouTube), had been on scintillating form throughout the 2007 race, seeing off the threat of newcomer Alberto Contador in the Pyrenees to effectively wrap up the yellow jersey battle.
But just hours after his dominant solo win on the Col d’Aubisque, the Chicken was sent packing, his team having come under increasing pressure for much of the previous week following reports that Rasmussen had lied about his whereabouts to avoid doping tests during the build-up to the Tour.
Rabobank’s reputation, like that of professional cycling at the time, was in ruins. While they continued for the next five years, picking up a green jersey and a Giro title on the way, the USADA report – and the revelations that emerged in 2012 concerning the team’s organised doping programme, supervised by Dr Geert Leinders (who, you may remember, briefly ended up at Team Sky) – proved the final nail in the coffin.
Rabobank withdrew its sponsorship, which had been in place since 1996, with the bank’s board member Bert Bruggink saying at the time: “We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future.”
Under the management of new team owner and director Richard Plugge, the squad endured a torrid few years, with one of the smallest budgets in the World Tour and limited success, before the remarkable turnaround that culminated in yesterday’s Tour win for Vingegaard.
In 2012, Plugge was keen to start afresh after years of doping scandals, an approach epitomised by the team’s ‘Blanco’ moniker while in between sponsorship deals. “We started as Blanco to give cycling back to the fans,” the 52-year-old told the team’s website yesterday.
However, traces of the old Rabobank era still remain. One of the team’s directors, Grischa Niermann, rode for Rabobank between 1999 and 2012, and in 2013 confessed to using EPO during his career. The aforementioned Engels also raced for the Dutch squad in the early 2000s, while other staff members were in place before the Plugge revolution.
Controversy still dogged the team only a few years ago – as he burst onto the scene with a time trial win at the 2016 Giro, Roglič was subject to rumours, fuelled by a joint investigation by Stade 2 and Il Corriere della Sera, concerning possible mechanical doping, which he has always denied.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, then, that the Tour de France’s dominant team, and one with such a murky history, would be asked questions about doping at their sport’s biggest race.
A.S.O./ Pauline Ballet
During the traditional Tour winner’s press conference on Saturday evening, Jonas Vingegaard was asked why cycling fans should trust his and his team’s performances.
“We are totally clean, every one of us,” the yellow jersey responded, in a straightforward manner which, to his credit, was in stark contrast to Pogačar’s mealy-mouthed variation on the ‘I’ve never tested positive’ line in the same situation a year before.
“I can say that to every one of you. No one of us is taking anything illegal. I think why we’re so good is the preparation that we do.
“We take altitude camps to the next step. We do everything with material, food, and training. The team is the best within this. That’s why you have to trust.”
Vingegaard is perhaps unfairly burdened by history. He is, after all, the first Dane to win the Tour since Bjarne Riis, who infamously skipped up the Hautacam in 1996 on the big ring and a boatload of EPO. Rasmussen, another fellow Dane who was so close to emulating Vingegaard’s feat on the same team, sat yards away in the press room as Vingegaard told reporters to “trust us”.
The yellow jersey’s invaluable teammate Van Aert, however, was less impressed by the question and notably less impressive in his answer.
“I don’t want to answer this question. It’s a shit question,” he said.
“Because we’re performing at this level, we have to defend ourselves. I don’t get it.
“We work super hard for this. Cycling has changed. I don’t like it that we keep on having to reply to this. We have to pass controls every moment of the year, not only at the Tour de France, also at our homes.
“We’re just training for it. If you just look through our team, how we’ve developed through these years, it hasn’t come from nowhere.”
At this year’s Tour de France, Jumbo-Visma proved once and for all that they can answer every question on the road.
How well they can answer other pertinent questions remains to be seen.
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