Tom Gloag has been part of WorldTour team Jumbo-Visma for two weeks. In just a few days, he’ll race in the famous yellow and black jersey for the first time. Tour France winner Jonas Vingegaard and nine-time Tour stage winner Wout van Aert also wear this kit, and Jumbo-Visma is becoming widely regarded as the best men’s WorldTour team in today’s peloton. For them, high-performance and serious dedication is mandatory, and no stone is left unturned in their drive to get to the top of the sport. No pressure, then, Tom?
“The team isn’t putting pressure on me, but it’s a big step up,” says the 21-year old. “It's really different the way they approach everything. I went to the Service Course to meet my coach and pick up some stuff there. I was there for six or seven hours meeting people and talking about the smallest things and little adjustments were being made.
“I remember on the way to the airport afterwards, I was just so drained, because it's so much new information for me, trying to put everything together and meeting new people and really having those intense interactions that aren’t second nature to me yet.”
While the meticulous attention to detail that the Jumbo-Visma prides itself on might be a little overwhelming for a rider stepping up to the team from Continental level, there’s no doubt that it is a method which breeds success. This year, the team has won the Tour, Paris-Nice and the Critérium du Dauphiné, as well as one-day races like Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with their classics rider extraordinaire, Van Aert. Primož Roglič, Christophe Laporte and Van Aert crossing the line to take a 1-2-3 in the first stage of Paris-Nice this year after riding away from the world class peloton was perhaps the most visual representation of Jumbo-Visma as cycling’s new super team.
“They have got a great track record of developing young guys. It's self-evident if you look at the top riders like Vingegaard, they took him as a fourth year under-23 and really grew him to the Tour de France winner,” says Gloag.
“Roglič was a ski-jumper before and they’ve taken him to win Grand Tours. Van Aert was a professional rider before but he stepped up a level when he joined Jumbo-Visma. You see Laporte this year, for example, he's an experienced pro who has had around the last 10 years in the peloton, and he's massively stepped up again this year. It seems like everyone who goes there gets better.”
Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix
It’s for this reason that Gloag picked the Dutch team to move up to the WorldTour with. After a stage victory in the prestigious U23 race, Tour de l'Avenir, this year and a stage win in Ronde de l'Isard last year, the Brit wasn’t short of options when it came to securing a professional contract. An impressive climber who can also excel in punchy one-day races, Gloag has the makings of a future Tour de France or Liège–Bastogne–Liège winner himself, and Jumbo-Visma spotted that potential.
Despite his impressive career so far, though, Gloag appears under no illusions that moving up to the WorldTour is going to be easy. His first race with Jumbo-Visma, the Giro dell'Emilia this weekend, already has a star-studded field announced, and is known to be one of the most challenging Italian one-day races on the calendar.
“Emilia had 40 finishers last year and they always say, normally it’s the hardest Italian one of the year,” Gloag says with a hint of apprehension in his voice. “There’s two 20 minute climbs and then you do five laps with a 2 kilometre climb which you finish up on the last time. It’s absolutely savage, a really explosive effort.”
Without Roglič or Vingegaard competing in the race, Jumbo-Visma won’t start as the favourites to win, a rarity for the world-beating squad. “If Primož or Vingegaard was here it would be a bit easier, but we don’t have a guy who could win it so we’re giving everyone a chance to whack it round, which is good. Expectations aren’t through the roof for the first one, I don’t know how I’ll be going,” says Gloag.
It’s Gloag’s understanding about the difficulty of racing at such a high level that could be his key to success. He’s not entering his first professional races overly confident and appears to be a realist when it comes to assessing his chances. His acceptance that he’s a young rider with plenty of years to learn his trade shines through, and this may open the door to a long and illustrious career.
“I want to finish the race, which doesn't sound like much but when there's 40 out of 160 guys who normally finish, it is! It is just about learning the team and getting comfortable,” explains Gloag. “It takes a while to get into the swing of things with different teams and it will be a very different experience, going from a Continental team to a World Tour team. Really, it's just about learning to step up and experiencing that level of racing. Personally, I'd really like to have a strong showing but I've got no idea what that is yet.”
I wonder if he’ll be a little starstruck racing with the likes of two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar or cycling legend Alejandro Valverde. “It’s probably going to be a little bit surreal,” laughs Gloag. “But it won’t last for long, when they’re putting the hurt on and I’m hanging on, I won’t appreciate it so much.”
Aside from the physical improvements the British rider believes he needs to make to race at this level – which he expects to come with increased training load and more race days – it is in his technical ability that he sees a chance to learn with Jumbo-Visma.
“Physically, I'm not really on the standard of the top guys, so that’s key for any young rider to keep improving. Technically, I think that my descending needs a fair bit of work” he says. “I've improved but I think being a comfortable descender, especially in this day and age where they seem to really race down descents, it’s important for me to look at it in the coming year.
“Also my time trialling, just because I haven't really spent much time trialling in that position. Those are the two things that kind of spring to mind apart from the physical aspect that I'd like to be working on. For sure. I'd like to take advantage of all of that Jumbo can offer to help me do that."
Before he can think long term about his performance goals, Tom Gloag has got a big couple of days ahead of him in Italy. First the Giro dell'Emilia, then another one-day race, Gran Piemonte, afterwards, he’ll get an idea pretty quickly about where he stands in the hierarchy of the professional peloton. He approaches it with an admirable tenacity and level-headed attitude, and most importantly, without too much pressure on his shoulders.
“I don't really think there is any easy place to start, everywhere has its own challenges.,” he says. “The nice thing about a one day race, though, is that you're on to the next one pretty soon, so it’s just plenty of good chances to learn.”
Keep your eyes peeled for part two of this interview where we will be talking to Tom Gloag about how his first races went, and if it was all as he expected…
Cover image: Tour d L'Avenir/Anouk Flesch