And it’s no wonder he is feeling in a party mood – he has just finished his first season with Jumbo-Visma, a team who has made history this year by winning all three Grand Tours, as well as winning a number of one-day races in the Classics. It’s a feat that no other team has ever achieved in the history of the sport and a feat that still hasn’t quite sunk in for Van Baarle, who rode both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España this year as one of the team’s domestiques.
“I think, to be honest, we cannot realise it yet, what it means,” he said. “You know, it was a big goal to win all three before the season, and when you also can finish with one, two, and three on the podium in the last one was, of course, super special. I think we will only realise in a few years what it really means. I was super proud to see the guys on the podium, and we even won the team GC, so that was awesome and nice to be on the podium myself where we could really celebrate with the rest of the team. It was incredible.”
But while the Grand Tour clean sweep will go down in history, one thing that put Jumbo-Visma in the headlines during the Vuelta was the controversial co-leadership between Jonas Vingegaard, Primož Roglič, and Sepp Kuss, who, in the end, won the last Grand Tour of the season. Despite smiles on the podium in Madrid, Roglič has now left Jumbo-Visma and has moved to Bora-Hansgrohe in search of sole leadership – highlighting perhaps the fact it wasn’t all happy families during the three weeks in Spain. Being a part of the team during the Vuelta, Van Baarle noted that he didn’t notice any atmosphere amongst the team or friction until Vingegaard came to him to speak about some things. “He felt there were some frustrations among the three of them,” he added.
After that, Jumbo-Visma put a clear plan in place, and all the riders stuck to it. This was no doubt after the drama unfolded on the mighty Angliru on stage 17, where both Roglič and Vingegaard dropped Kuss, who was in the red jersey, causing an untold amount of media attention. The next day, on stage 18, it was visible that something had changed, and it was steady sailing from there for Kuss to take the overall GC.
With Vingegaard seeking advice from Van Baarle during the Vuelta, I ask whether they are close: “We’re not inviting each other to birthday parties yet, but I get along really well with Jonas and, of course, after the Tour, we have a better connection than before, so I think it was more natural for him to speak to me about it. On my first training camp with the team, I was rooming with him, so that already helped us become closer. Hopefully, next year I’ll be at his birthday party.”
This year’s Tour and Vuelta might have been the Dutchman’s first for Jumbo-Visma, but this year’s Vuelta was the 31-year-old rider's 14th Grand Tour. And while the black and yellow-clad team are, without a doubt, the superteam of the moment, Van Baarle was also a part of Team Sky and Ineos Grenadiers from 2014 until 2022, when they were branded the superteam of that time. Van Baarle was a part of the team when Egan Bernal won the Tour in 2019, however, they never had the same success Jumbo-Visma has experienced in this one season alone.
“Both teams are looking for marginal gains, but a big change at Jumbo has a lot to do with nutrition and food coaching,” said Van Baarle when asked what makes Jumbo-Visma different from Ineos. “This has really helped me take that step up, especially in the Grand Tours, you feel more recovered for every stage. I didn’t really have any bad days during the Grand Tours and that has to do with the fuelling on and off the bike with the help of the team. I think that is where I have made the most gains this year [in Grand Tours]. It’s hard to speak about the Classics because I didn’t get to properly experience it with Jumbo. The opening weekend was good, but after that, I didn’t have a good experience.”
In his first race wearing the black and yellow kit, Van Baarle won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with an impressive solo finish. He hoped this would set the tone for the rest of his Classics campaign. However, as he looked to defend his Paris-Roubaix title, Van Baarle was involved in a nasty crash in the Forest of Arenberg, which left him with a fractured hand, shoulder and multiple lacerations across his face. This, and a bout of sickness, left him out of the Tour of Flanders and then he did not race until June at the Critérium du Dauphiné, putting an abrupt end to his 2023 Classics campaign.
“I was disappointed,” he said, reflecting on his Classics campaign. “But luckily, after that, it was an amazing season.” Going into next year, Van Baarle will again race the Classics, focusing on the Monuments, of which Jumbo-Visma did not achieve a win in 2023. Wout van Aert and Roglič were the last Jumbo-Visma riders to win a Monument in 2020 when Van Aert won Milan-Sanremo and Roglič Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Van Aert came tantalisingly close this year with third at Milan-Sanremo, fourth at the Tour of Flanders, and third at Paris-Roubaix, but never quite secured himself and the team that first place position. Van Baarle, as a Paris-Roubaix winner, could potentially help secure the missing link for Jumbo-Visma next season as they look to top a sensational year. But is there an opportunity when the team has a rider like Van Aert on the start list?
“Wout is a special rider and he is also one step ahead of me in terms of his ability to follow the big guys on the climbs,” he said, when questioned about whether there are as many chances for him in a team. “But also, he needs me to win those races, and I need him to win races too. We only make each other stronger. And it’s not only me, we also have Christophe [Laporte] and Tiesji Benoot, so I think as a unit we make each other stronger. But Wout is one step ahead of us.”