It’s fair to say that Team Jumbo Visma are a team who struggle with luck at the best of times. After a week and a bit replete with mishaps at the 105th Giro d’Italia, a dismal outcome for the Dutch team was widely predicted.
Jumbo Visma are the living embodiment of a rollercoaster ride. To follow them with anything beyond mere neutral interest is to open yourself up to a cascading torrent of unforeseen catastrophes, along with a fair whack of glorious triumphs.
They have success, and they suffer. I’d wager that most sports fans would take this life though, over the turgid monotony of the middle ground, without the highs and lows that drag us back to our screens, or to the roadside, never knowing quite what to expect. In this way, Jumbo Visma could be said to be representative of pro cycling as a whole. The mind-blowing joy at one end of a wide and complex spectrum; the pain, both physical and metaphorical, at the other.
It’s at the latter end of the spectrum that Jumbo Visma have found themselves at grand tours that AREN’T La Vuelta a España over the past few years, and nothing typifies the phrase ‘down on their luck’ quite like the Dutch team at the Giro d’Italia. They’ve sustained many hits at the hands of La Corsa Rosa in recent years, from Steven Kruijwijk’s crash into the snow in 2016 to Primož Roglič’s series of issues in 2019. In 2020 Kruijswijk saw the lead slip away once again as he contracted Covid-19 and the entire team was forced to withdraw. In 2018 and 2021, George Bennett did his best to carry the GC hopes for the team, but despite a creditable 8th place finish in 2018, he has never really been a true GC man, not up to the challenge of the stronger candidates.
So, on Friday 13th May, on stage 7 of this year’s Giro, when the news broke that Tom Dumoulin AND Tobias Foss had punctures, it felt like yet another inevitable blow in the grand tour that loves to break Dutch hearts. The dreaded date, one that strikes fear into many superstitious folk, merely added a cruel twist of the knife.
It hadn’t been an easy campaign so far. Dumoulin rode brilliantly on the second stage time trial yet missed out on the win, a loss that seemed to knock his still-fragile confidence. He was dropped early on Etna, a surprise given his upbeat attitude prior to the race, and, with many tougher challenges still lying ahead, it looked as if Dumoulin’s GC hopes were just a fantasy. Rumours abounded of him even leaving the race.
In terms of Jumbo Visma’s other GC hopes, it had been a quiet start from both Norwegian champion Tobias Foss and young Dutchman Sam Oomen. Foss came sixth on the time trial, but outside of this, both he and Oomen had failed to make an impact on the race, and sat at 29th and 31st on GC, respectively. Bad luck seemed, once again, to dog their progress – Sam Oomen’s crash following Stage 5 as he awkwardly tried to hand off a bidon to a fan was a prime example of the adage ‘anything that could go wrong, did.’
I posted this, following the punctures of Foss and Dumoulin.
Not only would the mechanical mean they had to work harder to get back to the peloton, but it happened at the beginning of a climb. Could things get any worse?
They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, and as far as Jumbo Visma are concerned, when the team seem at their lowest ebb, fate, the universe, or the cycling gods often see fit to intervene.
Koen Bouwman was active at the front, trying to get catch the pair of Italian Davides – Formolo and Villela – who had extricated themselves from the pack, ironically at the same time Foss and Dumoulin were struggling behind.
It took an age for the break to finally get away, the attempt of Richard Carapaz to escape bringing the pack back together and allowing Bouwman’s second attempt to get away to stick, along with former lone leader Wout Poels, and Formolo and Villela. This twist of fate combined with Tom Dumoulin finding his way back to the front of the peloton, and shortly after, the pair of Dutch riders finally dragged themselves clear of the rest. They were joined by another Dutchman, mountain breakaway specialist Bauke Mollema, on the hunt for the final piece in the jigsaw of his trilogy of grand tour victories.
The breakaway was finally complete, and as nerves settled and the escapees shored up ready for a day of battle, it became clear that this was a very good situation for Jumbo Visma. The only team with two riders present, with Bouwman in buoyant mood and Dumoulin seemingly rebounding from his disappointing day on Etna, the mood shifted to one of cautious optimism. Dumoulin struggled with mechanical issues but instead of it throwing him off his game, the inconvenience seemed to bounce off him, and he returned to the group time and again, displaying a new-found resilience, perhaps deriving from the lifting of the burden of GC leadership from his shoulders.
The day played out in textbook fashion for Jumbo Visma, with Bouwman clearly the strongest rider of the day, and Dumoulin the perfect foil for him. Dumoulin was dropped only to return to the group numerous times in the latter stages of the day, and the bond between the two Dutchmen, strengthened on altitude training camp in Colombia at the beginning of 2022, showed as Bouwman crossed the line and punched the air, with Dumoulin raising his arms in triumph a hundred metres behind him.
The ensuing celebrations reflected just how much it meant, not just to Bouwman but to Dumoulin too, whose joy seemed almost greater than that of his younger team mate. It feels disingenuous to interpret the psychological state of a rider who has been open about his struggles to overcome mental obstacles in his career. Yet the victory of Bouwman could perhaps be viewed as a relief to Dumoulin. His determined fulfilment of his supporting role on stage 7 of the Giro, rather than that of the main character, could possibly be seen as an alleviation of the pressure that he experiences quite keenly on occasion.
With the general classification a distant dream, singular moments of glory may be all that the Jumbo Visma faithful have to hold on to at this year’s Giro d’Italia, but they are moments that brilliant memories are made of. As they so often do, when under the cosh, the team have unified and given the gift of ‘samenwinnen’ – ‘winning together’, reassuring their fans and undoubtedly bolstering the mood among their ranks. With just over half the Giro remaining, there’s nothing to suggest they will not be up to these tricks once more – and we are absolutely here for it.
If you’d like to read this piece translated into Dutch, visit TJVSupporters.com for a full translation.