Jumbo-Visma have launched a massive strike group at the cobbled classics in 2023, and with the addition of Dylan van Baarle all pieces of the puzzle are present for complete domination this spring.
Jumbo-Visma have in 2022 turned a gear. After an improvement in investment, the team had it's big goal of conquering the Tour de France and dedicated all it's resources to do so. The very best possible team was taken to the Tour, and there there was a combination of climbing capacity, raw power, excellent tactics and complete control under pressure. This mindset is seemingly transitioning into 2023.
The Dutch team are having a different approach to the Grand Tours as Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard head in separate ways as the team eyes Giro success. They can do so however as their main goal has been achieved. However there has been just as much work to head into a domination in the cobbled classics, in the way that Quick-Step had just a decade ago, and they might already have reached the necessary level to do so.
In 2022 two transfers changed everything. Wout van Aert has proven himself as a leading figure in the classics, sprints and as an incredibly versatile rider. His quality is undeniable, but also a weak point as many times he was the man to beat, and in races such as this it was a burden too heavy to bare. Come in: Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot.
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The 2022 transfer window saw these two figures come in, which changed everything in the team's approach to classics. Jumbo was no longer a defensive team who hoped for few attacks, but now had the capacity to race tactically and spare van Aert of the pressure. This allowed them to be in more control of the races and favour the Belgian's chances of succeeding.
Immediately the effect was felt. Wout van Aert attacked and rode to a solo win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. At the E3 Saxo Bank Classic he and Laporte obliterated the rest, going on a tandem attack using the element of surprise and leadout. This was also used at Paris-Nice and the Tour de France later in the year with tremendous results.
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In Gent-Wevelgem the team had decided to give Christophe Laporte the chance to win, and as riders looked at van Aert he made it into the winning move - eventually racing to third. Tiesj Benoot was not as suited, but in equally good form, racing to second at Dwars door Vlaanderen alongside Mathieu van der Poel.
Disaster then struck as van Aert caught Covid-19 days before Flandres. The team lost it's leader and dominating factor. Despite this he managed to race into second at Paris-Roubaix, where Jumbo were defeated with their own strategy as INEOS covered the early attack of Dylan van Baarle who could succeed. Come 2023, van Baarle now joins Jumbo, as does Jan Tratnik who had shown tremendous legs during the spring classics.
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Today, on Opening Weekend day, the team spearheaded a 14-rider group with 6 of their own. Jan Tratnik and Nathan van Hooydonck then attacked again and put the pressure on all other teams. It is an immense depth that the team can work with but also of brilliant strategical insight, that they are consistently on the front foot as rival teams burn their men in chasing.
They keep their men towards the front at all times and Dylan van Baarle launched his own move with 40 kilometers to go, again with some company which would disrupt chasing. Van Baarle rode at his very best level, as he had done in Roubaix. A traditional move with an early attack in tough terrain, and endless amount of power which see him survive on the flat roads where he would on paper lose time.
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On the climbs it is known that van Baarle will be able to sustain attacks. Whilst he rode his own race Jumbo had Christophe Laporte cover the strongest in the peloton. His sprint - a reminder, he was second at the World Championships - will forever be an obstacle to whoever is willing to work in a group where he follows. The team constantly covered all attempts to reach van Baarle and played a big psychological barrier.
The win was comfortable. The race was comfortable. At all times they were in front, and when the decisive attack came it was one of their own. And Wout van Aert remains at Teide, he will only race from the E3 Saxo Classic forward when it comes to the cobbles. Most eyes will the be on him, whilst van Baarle will keep having freedom to attack.
Even if the team can be matched uphill, with great tactics they're able to split groups immensely. In 2022 they were by far the strongest classics team, and the expectations that van Baarle would improve this were correct. Tadej Pogacar, Mathieu van der Poel, Tom Pidcock and perhaps another figure may attack on the climbs, but their teams will not be on the same level and pressure will be put.
Without having to bridge gaps and attack it's hard to imagine van Aert not being able to follow the latter. And that is in Flandres. In Roubaix the team look perfectly set to repeat their strategy and play with numbers. A dark spring lays ahead for many teams who carry high ambitions for the cobbles. Jumbo-Visma are quite likely to dominate from Omloop to Roubaix, and their opening test was the exact performance and boost of motivation they were looking for.
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