It was just one week ago that Jumbo-Visma looked close to unstoppable in the Classics. Dylan van Baarle and Tiesj Benoot took victories at Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne respectively and in both races, the team in black and yellow were utterly dominant, flawless in their tactics and execution. Less than seven days later at Strade Bianche, however, the Jumbo-Visma fairytale came to an abrupt and sour end, as numerous errors meant that the victory slipped out of their hands, despite them having the strength and numbers to win the race.
Around 30 kilometres after Tom Pidcock made his winning attack, Benoot was in a trio which was chasing the flying Brit. Attila Valter – Jumbo-Visma’s young Hungarian champion – sat in a group just behind Benoot which was filled with fast finishers such as Quinn Simmons and Matej Mohorič. With just under 20 kilometres of the race remaining as the riders hit the tenth gravel sector of the day, Benoot attacked his trio, making a bid to get across to Pidcock alone.
Behind, Valter’s group was splintering on the climb, with the likes of Mohorič and Simmons struggling on the steep gradients. Valter, on the other hand, was in impressive form, coming round Simmons as they crested the top of the ascent. At this point, it looked like the Hungarian could bridge the gap to his teammate alone, creating a good situation for Jumbo-Visma; it would have been a four-rider group with two teammates able to chase. However, as the road flattened out, Mohorič and Simmons began to close the gap to Valter. This meant that when Benoot looked round from the group ahead, it appeared that his teammate was towing two of the Dutch team’s biggest rivals across the gap, putting them back in contention for victory.
Image: James Startt
Benoot made no secret of his discontent about this move during the race, throwing his hands in the air in frustration when he saw his teammate approaching him from behind. From Valter’s perspective, he seemed unaware of how small the gap to his breakaway companions had become, perhaps expecting that they had fallen further behind on the climb.
“I needed to communicate better with Tiesj, it’s mainly my fault,” Valter admitted after the race.
Even after the clear mix-up on the climb, however, Jumbo-Visma still were unable to coherently put together a plan to catch Pidcock, despite coming as close to seven seconds from the Ineos Grenadiers rider. With two of them in the group, it would have made sense for the sports directors to instruct one to chase properly, and this would have instilled more collaboration between the group as a whole. With Benoot’s current fast finish, if Valter (in his superb form) had committed to chasing Pidcock, the race could have been back in the hands of Jumbo-Visma.
Instead, both riders appeared to hang off the back of the chasing group, both putting in attacks but seemingly without a clear plan. This made it easy for their rivals to pre-empt their moves, with the likes of Mohorič and Simmons latching on to the back of them when the attacks came. It appeared that no words were spoken between the Jumbo-Visma pairing – Valter even attacked in the closing stages of the race when Benoot was on the front and it looked as if he caught his own teammate unaware.
In the final sprint, Benoot was able to secure second place, beaten only by Valentin Madouas of Groupama-FDJ, giving him a spot on the third step of the podium. It seems that if Benoot and Valter had worked together better, Pidcock could have been caught and Benoot could have had fresher legs for that final sprint with every chance of victory.
Benoot didn’t mince his words after the finish, conveying his sadness about his result. “I had the legs to win today,” he told Sporza. “Now there is still some disappointment. Maybe tomorrow that disappointment might give way to pride.”
Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix
His teammate, though remorseful, was optimistic about how he can work with Benoot as the season progresses, as well as satisfied with his own form – fifth in Strade Bianche on debut is a commendable result.
“There were two of us in the front and we ended up on the podium,” Valter said. “But if I compare myself with Nathan Van Hooydonck, I can still improve. Nathan has known Tiesj for some time and understands him better but Tiesj is a good leader,” Valter said after the race. “Give us a few more races together and it will go much better. It’s only my first race with him.”
It’s true that mistakes in cycling happen, but the errors made at Strade Bianche today showed chinks in what before seemed like an untouchable armour of Jumbo-Visma. It’s rare to see this super team lose grasp of the win when they are within touching distance of victory, but as Valter himself puts in: “It would be a miracle if we were able to win every race, we still came away with the podium, but for the Jumbo standards, we have to aim higher.”
Cover image: Getty/Dirk Waem