There is a history in cycling of super teams. We’ve seen squads like Team Sky (now Ineos Grenadiers) assert themselves as the best team in the mountains, able to string out the peloton behind them, a well-drilled line of riders in perfectly matching kits putting pressure on their competitors. In the Classics, we’ve seen Quick Step in their various iterations master the cobblestone roads, controlling the one-day races like puppet masters, with multiple options when it comes to the win. On the women’s side of the sport, Boels-Dolmans (now SD Worx), come to mind – it’s a squad that spots the best talent in the peloton and signs them up, allowing them to attack in races without risking everything.
A team which has had a steady rise back to the top of the sport after acquiring supermarket chain Jumbo as a sponsor back in 2015, it’s too early to call if Jumbo-Visma will add themselves to the list of cycling super team legends. But, the way in which the Dutch squad have opened their 2022 campaign has been remarkable and certainly puts them in contention as the strongest team in the men’s peloton at the moment. Despite the new signings that they've made for this year, the team seems to be already perfectly integrated and well-drilled. The tactical astuteness and clear bond they have so early in the season only serves as a warning sign for other teams about what we can expect to see as we roll on into the bigger Classics and Grand Tours.
It all began with Opening Weekend. The world may have expected Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl to storm away with a win in Omloop het Nieuwsblad, their blue jerseys swarming the front of the peloton, as has been a common occurrence in Classic races gone by. Jumbo-Visma, however, ripped up the script and asserted themselves as a team who can command the Classics. While Wout van Aert was a favourite going in to the race, and the way he rode to victory was a testament to his own strength, he was far from a one-man band.
His decisive attack on the Bosberg was perfectly set up by his teammate, Tiesj Benoot. The ex-Lotto Soudal rider’s blistering move on the Berendries climb at Omloop tired the legs of many of Van Aert’s main competitors, forcing an aggressive race that would provide a springboard for the Belgian Champion to make his attack. In previous years, Van Aert would have been fighting the ‘Wolfpack’ solo, but instead he had cards to play, and the support he needed to show his strength at crunch point. While Jumbo-Visma were unable to take another win at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the following day, they still were active in every single breakaway, proving that they can fight for the wins, even without their star rider.
Again, with a different cohort of riders, the team have continued their stellar performances at the ongoing Paris-Nice. The main headlines of the opening day came from Jumbo's Christophe Laporte, Primož Roglič and Van Aert crossing the line in the top-three positions, but their impressive performance began much earlier in the 160km stage. Their new signing, Rohan Dennis – who transferred from Ineos Grenadiers after stating that Ineos were “copying Jumbo with a lot of stuff” – spent the day patrolling the front of the race for GC favourite Roglič, ensuring the team were in the right place should any splits or crosswinds occur. Once they were out of potentially risky exposed sections, the men in and yellow and black took control of the race with 20km to go, stringing the bunch out to bring back the remnants of the breakaway.
With Dennis’s work done, it was another strong Jumbo-Visma rider who took to the front. Mike Teunissen positioned the team perfectly into a crucial left turn, with gaps already developing in the bunch behind them. Even before the race had hit the climb, Jumbo-Visma had put their key rivals under pressure, surprising the likes of Ineos Grenadiers with a move on what many expected to be a bunch kick to the finish.
There were only a few riders capable of hanging in there as they turned on to the 1,200m, 7% climb that ended up being decisive. When Teunissen’s work was done, Laporte was ready to take up the mantle. His acceleration was the final death-knell for any riders who were still hanging on to the Jumbo train, and it highlighted the French rider’s versatility. Almost winning Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne from a breakaway a few days before, Laporte proved himself to be able to punch with the best on short, steep climbs at Paris-Nice too. The following day, in stage two, Laporte once again showed his worth as arguably the team’s shrewdest signing. After ensuring Roglič and Van Aert were well-positioned in the crosswinds and echelons that plagued the day’s racing, Laporte executed an exemplary lead out for Van Aert as the Belgian champion tried to outsprint Fabio Jakobsen in the reduced bunch kick to the line. Van Aert ended up second, unable to match the sprint of his Quick Step competitor, but this was not the fault of Laporte’s lead out, which was exemplary.
But it will be the image of the 1-2-3 in the opening stage of the race that will be long remembered, highlighting the supreme strength of Jumbo-Visma this year. Before they've even hit the mountains, Primoz Roglič has gained time on his rivals and Wout van Aert has already been in the top three in every stage. Jumbo Visma have proven themselves as animators who can control the race as they wish, something that should be setting off alarm bells with their rivals.
If these performances continue throughout the season, the black and yellow jerseys of Jumbo-Visma threaten to swamp the podium across the board, not just in Classics (Quick Step) or Grand Tours (Sky). They are the complete package.
With climbing talent, one-day racers, leadout men, TT specialists and everything in between, it begs the question: what can’t this team do? Over to you Ineos Grenadiers, Quick Step, UAE Team Emirates and Movistar – you've got a battle on your hands.