For the Love of Bees: on Team Jumbo-Visma, risk, and – sometimes – glory

In August 2021, Primož Roglič did something that many bike racers like to do on occasion: he launched an attack. Heading up the cat 2 Puerto de Almáchar climb, deep in the Andalusian Hills of southern Spain, Roglič stood out of his seat and launched off the front of the peloton in search of more time as he sought to win his third consecutive Vuelta title.

Shortly after his attack, a hair-raising descent saw Roglič hit the ground following an over-committed turn. Down but not out, he picked himself up and continued on, joining up with the chasing group and finishing the stage thankfully unharmed. He didn’t gain over his immediate rivals but did pick up a few seconds over the likes of Egan Bernal and Adam Yates.

Was it worth it? The armchair pundits collectively griped over how unnecessary it was to take that risk. He had plenty of other chances to pick up time, right? Why bother putting himself in danger for relatively little gain?

Primož Roglič’s response when questioned about it later that day perfectly encapsulated not only his own gutsy yet slightly unhinged approach to racing, but also the mentality of the team he has called home for the past six seasons.

‘No risk, no glory.’

And who are we to argue?

Many times in recent years, the teams with the strongest riders have chosen to ride defensively; to conserve energy, guard their protected riders and not make any waves until it’s absolutely necessary. And the complaints have been voluble: we want to see racing! Not faceless dominance.

This is not how Jumbo-Visma choose to ride. While the strength of the team cannot be denied, having ample resources is no excuse to be boring, as far as the Dutch team are concerned. They have assets and they use them. They animate races, they provide stories, they are so often a talking point – not always for winning, either. As a unit they are redefining the notion of a cycling super power. They are superheroes with flaws – they possess chinks in their aerodynamic armour that humanise them, and make them identifiable.

Wout van Aert and Christophe Laporte head up Jumbo Visma’s classics unit
Photo: Bram Berkiens, Jumbo Visma

Prospective fans take note – following Jumbo is not akin to glory hunting. This is not the Manchester City of cycling. You have a rollercoaster ride ahead of you, should you choose this path. One day you’ll be celebrating a Mapei-style 1-2-3 at Paris-Nice, the next you will have your heart smashed as one or another of your team hits the deck, again. (And again. And again.) On balance, it’s probably pretty bad for your health.

No, you cannot rely on them to bring you glory. A team who are infamous for their dalliances with ill-fortune, it’s almost a running joke among the cycling community that Jumbo-Visma will suffer some sort of incident or accident as they navigate their way through races of all kinds. They don’t play it safe but equally, they’re not stupid, and on many occasions bad luck seem inexplicably to find them. Take the ‘allez omi-opi’ incident from last year’s Tour de France, the first in a series of misfortunes which struck the team during the biggest race of the season, leaving them with just four riders, and causing the abandonment of their GC plans.

Yet here, on the knife-edge between total collapse and Hollywood-style redemption, is where Jumbo-Visma continually find themselves. And they thrive there. When under the cosh, they pull together and accomplish wonderful things. Those four riders went on to secure four stage victories and a second place on the GC podium. Not too shabby, by anyone’s standards.

Their team ethic, simply stated by their motto ‘samen winnen’ (winning together) is real, and tangible, and is a big part of what attracts so many to follow them, garnering admiration and warm reaction from many quarters. Their recently formed women’s team has flourished under just such a mentality; despite having superstars such as Marianne Vos within their ranks, they are a unified bunch who will work for one another no matter what, and are having the time of their lives while they do it. They bring out the best in one another. Their Development Squad is well organised and offers real chances for progression. And it goes without saying that it’s backed up by enviable technology and exceptionally qualified staff.

Jumbo-Visma don’t pretend to be anything they’re not. Their branding reflects their heart-on-sleeve style of approaching bike racing. They offer insights through behind-the-scenes movies, tongue-in-cheek social media videos, opening their doors to give fans a real insight into the personalities within the team. It gives us a hint of what we can expect from the touted Netflix series which looks set to follow the Tour de France. The Jumbo-Visma team are well versed in being the centre of a story, and there’s no doubt in my mind they will steal the show.

So how has this season gone so far, for a team who have famously lost a Tour de France that was theirs for the taking, twice in a row? The answer is pretty darned well, to be honest. Wout van Aert won the opening weekend race at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in dominant fashion, proving that Jumbo’s wise investments in the off-season really were just that as his newly replenished classics team supported him all the way.

Tiesj Benoot has been pivotal in one day racing so far and may have gone on to play a bigger part at Strade Bianche, a race he had already won previously, if it wasn’t for an unlucky crash, one of many on a day fraught with chaotic cross winds. Who knows what might have been, given the confidence the former Team DSM rider has been displaying.

Benoot himself challenged at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, with Christophe Laporte a key man for the team there, another rider who has found a new lease of life in his new team this season. He carried that form into Paris-Nice where the team pulled off a spectacular performance on stage one, filling the podium in a display of raw dominance rarely seen at World Tour level. Laporte, van Aert and Roglič took 1, 2, 3 on the day and held those positions the following three days, shifting position on GC after stage 4’s time trial in which van Aert triumphed over Roglič and Rohan Dennis.

Lest we forget, Jumbo’s signing of Rohan Dennis was another brilliant bit of business for the Dutch outfit. The Aussie national champion came into his own in the time trial, taking the baton from Laporte by completing the podium and driving into the following stage in the mountains as Roglič’s key climbing domestique, as van Aert let the yellow jersey go, in favour of conserving his energy for his own goals later in the Spring. Admittedly, Roglič was a little isolated later on stage 5, but he was equal to the challenge.

Meanwhile, Roglič’s regular mountain detail were busy with races of their own. Sepp Kuss and Jonas Vingegaard fared well at the two early French one day classics, with Vingegaard winning the Drôme Classic and Kuss 3rd at Faun-Ardèche. This week, instead of supporting Roglič, they are taking on Tirreno-Adriatico, keeping a close eye on UAE Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogačar.

Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard
Photo: Bram Berkiens, Jumbo Visma

This team present perhaps one of the only hopes of resistance to the imperious reign of Tadej Pogačar. The hope might be a slim one, but with Wout van Aert at the classics, and Jonas Vingegaard in longer races, they are hopes nonetheless. The young Dane appears to be one of the few riders left who doesn’t seem to fear the Slovene and was the only one who came close to him at last year’s Tour de France.

Will everything run smoothly, and will the team continue to succeed at this high level all season? Almost certainly not. But we are guaranteed to be fully entertained along the way.

Jumbo-Visma know what they’re doing, no doubt about it. They know how to win fans, and to keep them. Do they make the right decisions, tactically? Not always. But it’s that element of doubt that keeps things interesting. They have the potential to function as a well-oiled machine. They don’t do things by halves. They do some things really, really well (time trialling, La Vuelta a Espana). And even when they’re not on top, they give you something to talk about.

Purists may criticise their occasionally unconventional or overly risky approach, but they are bold. They are fearless. They try things. This summer, they may try to do something that hasn’t been attempted since the 1980s – to win the yellow AND the green jersey at the Tour de France. It’s a possibility which has led many to frown and tut and shake their heads. Yet look at the resources they have among their ranks, and dare yourself to ask – why not?

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Published by katymadgwick

I am a freelance cycling writer and fiction author. I have followed pro cycling for nine years, making the move in 2021 into writing and content creation. You can find my work at rouleur.cc, Cycling News, Cyclist Magazine, the British Continental and on my own site: writebikerepeat.com. I am a co-host on the Quicklink podcast, and also have a YouTube channel where you can find my Highlights Reel series, featuring conversations with cycling fans about the 2021 season.

4 thoughts on “For the Love of Bees: on Team Jumbo-Visma, risk, and – sometimes – glory

  1. I picked Wout van Aert — and by extension TJV – to be my favorite when I got into cycling in 2019, and since then it has been just as you. The first race I watched that year was stage 1 of the TDF, for which Dylan Groenewegen was a favorite. But he crashed very early that day and disappeared, a disappointment that turned to elation when Mike Teunissen stunned everyone by winning the sprint– on his home soil! — and wearing yellow for two stages. Wout won an even more stunning sprint on stage 10, then nearly ended his career with a horrific crash just a few days later in the TT.

    That pattern has held true ever since. Last year’s TDF was truly sickening, and as you point out, not even their fault. Never mind “allez opi omi.” Tony Martin was crashed out three times, Robert Gesink broke a collar bone, and of course Primoz got more or less literally bounced out of the race, none of them due to risky moves. They were all just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    It has already started this year. Tiesj got knocked out of Strade-Bianche due to bad luck, and I think Kruiswijk’s crash this week was the same. Laporte got taken out less than 100m from the finish of a stage. It’s obviously just a part of the sport, and maybe I misjudge all this because of my TJV bias. But seriously — has any other team lost as much due to the mistakes of others? Evenepoel and Bernal have both had life-threatening crashes, and Van der Poel has had serious injuries as well. But none of their crashes were caused by others, they just went wrong. TJV has made its share of mistakes, but here’s hoping the purely bad luck is over.

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    1. You’ve had a similar rollercoaster journey to myself, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon! As you say it’s already started this season. It’s the ups and downs that make it all worthwhile for me – sport for me has to be partly about suffering, and I am happy to shoulder some of that burden as a fan – it’s not just about the athletes going through hell, I’m there for the ride too 🙂 Thanks for reading.

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  2. As always, this is a fantastic piece – you capture exactly why Jumbo is such a fabulous team to support and also the pain of being such a supporter in the face of so many mishaps!! The moments of sheer glory though make it worth it. Although the last weekend almost stopped my heart!!! Still, seeing Primoz’ radiant smile behind that sun trophy reminded me why this team is the best in cycling for a long, long time. Keep writing – love your take on all of this.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment Tamar I thought I had replied already – I really appreciate your kind words. Yes it was a real rollercoaster, wasn’t it? Looking forward to the next one, in Itzulia next week!

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