Small budget, big ambition: How Jumbo-Visma are making great strides towards Grand Tours success

Jumbo-Visma. They’re a Dutch team who’ve been around in various incarnations since the invention of the bread slicer, but, how is it only now that they’ve started garnering all the attention?

Who are this yellow-and-black clad assemble appearing on the podium of week-long and three-week races throughout 2019, winning stages from all angles, piling on the pressure in Tour de France Summit finishes, and fielding some of the hottest young talent in the WorldTour?

Formed in 1984, the Dutch outfit have been around longer than I’ve been on this fair earth, existing under various guises, notably Rabobank, Belkin, and LottoNL – Jumbo.

Like ‘the other Lotto’, Lotto-Soudal, Jumbo-Visma have mostly forged their fortunes in the grippy hills and howling winds of the hardman racing in Northern Europe.

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In 2018 and 2019 however, Jumbo-Visma have stepped out of the shadows of the Grand Tour scene to take it to the likes of Movistar and Ineos.

Not long after Primoz Roglic rampaged through the first half of the season with GC victories in three one-week races before sadly slumping from first to third place in the overall standings in the Giro d’Italia, the Dutch team became arguably the most successful team of the Tour de France.

Unlike most of the stronger teams in the World Tour, Jumbo-Visma went to France with dual ambitions, working for Steven Kruijswijk on the GC and Dylan Groenewegen in the sprints.

They were one of the few true ‘GC teams’ to split their forces across two ambitions, and they came out smelling of roses (or sunflowers?).

Picking up third on GC with Kruijswijk, winning three sprint stages with three different riders, absolutely crushing the field in the TTT, and holding the yellow jersey is a display of versatility and depth few teams have managed in recent years.

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In the analytical, strategic, data-led world of pro cycling, success doesn’t come by chance. Jumbo-Visma’s romp through France was part of a larger masterplan that’s been bubbling away for several years.

Just as Mitchelton-Scott have slowly converted themselves from a team hunting stages to a GC force, Jumbo-Visma have been slowly but surely widening their sights from classics and sprint wins to also aim for GC podiums.

Team DS Richard Plugge told VeloNews after the Tour: “This is what we planned. We planned this [success at the Tour] a couple of years ago, saying what do we need to do. Sometimes you need to have a little bit of luck. Step by step we are where we want to be.”

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Over the past years, Plugge and the boffins behind the team have used their relatively tight budget, which is rumoured to be around 1/3 that of big spenders Ineos, to develop young talent from within and do the basics right.

Whereas other big-budget teams such as UAE-Team Emirates and Bahrain-Merida have bought in talent that has little affinity to the jersey they ride for, Jumbo-Visma has slowly developed youngsters and new names with masses of potential such as Roglic, Laurens de Plus and Sepp Kuss.

Although the signing of new superstar on the block Wout van Aert could be considered an outlier, the Dutch team has largely saved their cash to invest in training camps, nutrition software, and top-quality facilities, investing in the things that make success happen rather than looking for quick wins.

However, change could be coming in 2020.

The team with three bonafide GC contenders – Kruijswijk, Roglic, and George Bennett – are rumoured to be signing Tom Dumoulin after the Dutchman fell out of love with his Sunweb team over the handling of the knee injury at the 2018 Giro D’Italia.

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Like Ineos, Jumbo-Visma could be left with an embarrassment of riches and one too many cards to play.

In a team where morale and camaraderie seems strong (take Bennett’s sacrifice of his GC chances by going on bottle duty at the Tour, for example), the sudden arrival of a GC superstar could cause ripples of discontent.

How will a stalwart such as Kruijswijk, a team member for his entire 12-year career, be left feeling when suddenly usurped in the pecking order by his high-profile countryman?

Or consider Bennett, who wins week-long races and could definitely contend in the top six of a grand tour. The Kiwi will be pushed yet another rung down the ladder with Dumoulin in town. Although this may all be part of Plugge’s masterplan, he’s going to have to manage his internal politics very carefully.

Whether Dumoulin comes aboard or not, for Jumbo-Visma to successfully challenge Ineos, you can’t help but feel that they may need to refine their focus. When the British team go to a grand tour, they go to win the Grand Tour. They don’t get distracted by sprints and stage wins.

They went to France all-in for GC, and came out with the top two slots. There’s a sense that Jumbo-Visma came out of France having ticked off objective B – stage wins, to the detriment of objective A – the yellow jersey (and not that one they wear every day at every race).

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Consider briefly how differently things may have turned out at the Tour for the Dutch team had they sacrificed their sprint contingent and replaced them with the rouleurs and climbers on which GC success is founded. Bennett made comments to this effect after the Tour.

Discussing how a rider like Groenewegen deserves support, the Kiwi implied that all the work he had to do for his sprinter left him at 90% for the mountains.

Next up is the Vuelta a Espana.

Early suggestions are that it’s all eyes on the red jersey, with Roglic, Bennett, Kruijswijk, Kuss and Robert Gesink all there to fight in the mountains. There is a small nod toward the sprints with Danny van Poppel, but no focus on them like there was at the Tour.

This could well be the next step of Plugge’s masterplan. Having possibly mismanaged Roglic’s build to the Giro then misallocated resources at the Tour, the Spanish race may be the time for the Jumbo-Visma to take that final step – to the top of a grand tour podium.

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“In the next years, we can really take the fight to Team Ineos and take Grand Tours wins,” Kruijswijk said after the Tour.

It’s certainly true. If they handle any internal politics with the rumoured signing of Dumoulin and if they refine their tactical focus, 2020 is theirs for the taking.

Main image by Alex Broadway, courtesy of ASO.

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