Visma-Lease a Bike put down early marker for Tour de France with impressive victories

The Dutch squad claimed a crushing win at Tirreno-Adriatico with their main man Jonas Vingegaard, while a less-formidable looking team still managed to take Paris-Nice against other Tour hopefuls

Another week, another clean-sweep of Visma-Lease a Bike victories. Much as they did a fortnight ago during opening weekend when Jan Tratnik slipped away late to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Wout van Aert triumphed at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne from the break, the team achieved another double of two of the most important early season races, with Jonas Vingegaard crushing the opposition at Tirreno-Adriatico, and Matteo Jorgenson claiming a surprise title at Paris-Nice. Following a 2023 season of unprecedented success, it seems that nothing can halt Visma-Lease a Bike’s momentum — and that none of their prospective Tour de France rivals can get near them.

Vingegaard’s win was expected, yet the manner in which he did so was still striking. Despite a modest time trial, he was untouchable in the mountains, attacking early on the hors category San Giacomo 28km from the finish to take the overall lead, then dropping everyone again on the Monte Petrano mountain top finish the following day to win another stage and seal overall victory. It was a performance of utter domination that indicates he’s well on track for achieving his major season goal of claiming a third successive Tour de France title.

Much less expected was Jorgenson’s success at Paris-Nice. Starting the race as at best an outside contender who’d only once before made the top six on GC at a WorldTour stage race, the 24-year old made the selection on the first uphill finish at Mont Brouilly, slipped clear with Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek) and Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) on a climb 29km from the finish during a hilly stage six, then took the yellow jersey from the latter by being the only rider able to stay with the attacks of Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick-Step) on the final stage.

Jorgenson matched Evenepoel on the final stage of Paris-Nice to claim overall victory (ASO/Billy Ceusters)

It was a result that suggested Visma-Lease a Bike have pulled off another major coup by signing the American. His time at Movistar demonstrated he had clear talent, but he’s already come on leaps and bounds since signing for the team this season, preceding this breakthrough victory at Paris-Nice with some eye-catching rides on the cobbles during Opening Weekend, where he came 10km away from winning Het Nieuwsblad with a long-range solo attack. This all-around ability looks set to make him a very important rider for Visma-Lease a Bike — especially at the Tour de France, where Jorgenson is down to ride in place of the irreplaceable Wout van Aert, who’s skipping the Tour this year in favour of the Giro. It seems fair to say that Van Aert’s shoes are impossible to fill, but the signs are that Jorgenson might be able to significantly mitigate the damage of his absence.

Visma-Lease a Bike will take particular encouragement from getting the better of rivals UAE Team Emirates to win both their stage race titles last week. Jorgenson took the yellow jersey from UAE’s Brandon McNulty on the final day, while Vingegaard reclaimed control of Tirreno-Adriatico after Juan Ayuso had established himself as the early front-runner with time trial victory. Yet despite again failing to win a stage race, having also lost the leader’s jersey on the final day of their home UAE Tour last month, the team have plenty to feel positive about. Ayuso was the best of the rest of what was a strong field at Tirreno-Adriatico, while 20-year-old Isaac del Toro continued his revelatory start to the season by finishing fourth overall. Paris-Nice may not have gone quite so well, with McNulty slipping to third overall while João Almeida and Jay Vine failed to stay in GC contention, but it needs to be remembered that these riders aren’t essential to UAE Team Emirates’ Tour de France plans. Rather, those that are selected will form part of the support team of leader Tadej Pogačar, who was not present at either stage race last week, but has started the form on fire with his huge Strade Bianche victory. With Adam Yates also soon to return from a concussion injury, it’s apparent that they boast a strength in depth of climbers that even Visma-Lease a Bike can’t match.

One of the reasons Matteo Jorgenson was able to win Paris-Nice against the odds was the inability of any team to control the race, which was in part an indictment of Bora-Hansgrohe. They were deploying their marquee new signing Primož Roglič for the first time, but the Slovenian looked well short of his best form and ultimately finished down in 10th overall. They signed Roglič in the hope of competing with Visma-Lease a Bike and UAE Team Emirates at the Tour de France this summer, but the fact they brought their A-team to Paris-Nice, yet still finished well behind the B-teams of both those rival squads, does not bode well. Though it’s far too early in the season and far away from their primary goal of the Tour de France to leap to any definitive conclusions, this is nevertheless a worrying sign given how dependably consistent the Slovenian was in stage races like this while riding for previous team Jumbo-Visma. He’d won 10 of his previous 13 appearances, and of those he didn’t win, it was usually explained away by injury problems. To see him exposed for a lack of legs like this was a novelty, and can’t help but raise alarm bells.

Whether or not that was down to age beginning to take its toll on the 34-year-old, or the team not providing him with the same quality of support as Jumbo-Visma did, or something less concerning altogether, is debatable. It did not help Roglič that he began the race on the backfoot due to his team’s performance on stage three’s team time trial, where they finished down in 11th and conceded almost a minute to UAE Team Emirates. But when his attack on stage six failed to harm his rivals, and when he was dropped himself the following days, his teammates could hardly be blamed. In fact, one of them, Aleksandr Vlasov, was evidently stronger in the final few stages of the race, winning the mountain top finish at La Madone d'Utelle, and staying with Evenepoel and Jorgenson for a while after Roglič was dropped, to propel him up to fifth overall — five places higher than Roglič.roglic

The team will be happier with how Tirreno-Adriatico went. Jai Hindley looked in great shape to finish third overall behind only Vingegaard and Ayuso, and the team also impressively took the race to Visma-Lease a Bike with domestiques Dani Martínez and Lennard Kämna ripping the peloton to shreds on the Monte Petrano summit finish. Yet even these apparently promising signs might bring with them more problems for the team. Both Hindley and Vlasov had expected to be GC leaders prior to the arrival of Roglič, and neither has been especially vocal about their willingness to play second fiddle to the Slovenian come the Tour. By outperforming him this week, they’ll feel emboldened in their case for GC leadership, and the established hierarchy at the team is already being disrupted.

As for the other rider expected to form part of the four-way tussle for yellow this July, Remco Evenepoel was happy with his second place finish and stage win at Paris-Nice. But his failure to win the race does raise more questions about whether his Soudal–Quick-Step team really is at the required level to adequately support a rider of his calibre chase stage race victories. It seemed as though Evenepoel probably was the strongest rider at the race, and, in his own words, felt he missed out on victory as a result of “tactical mistakes”. Had he a stronger team, those tactical mistakes might not have mattered. Had Evenepoel the kind of domestiques his rivals have at their disposal to support him, you can imagine them seizing control of the race on the small Côte de la Colle-sur-Loup climb that Jorgenson slipped away on, and therefore save the 54 seconds lost that day that ultimately proved to be the difference between the two at the top of the GC. Evenepoel will have Mikel Landa to support him in the mountains come the Tour, but Soudal–Quick-Step still seem short — especially given the quality of their opposing team rivals.

Cover photo by Zac Williams/SWPix

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