Blazin' Saddles: How to beat Ineos? Sign Dumoulin and build your own empire…
Team Jumbo-Visma have responded to Ineos' latest Tour de France victory by announcing the capture of Dutchman Tom Dumoulin from Team Sunweb. With the 2017 Giro champion joining the likes of Primoz Roglic, Steven Kruijswijk and George Bennett, Dumoulin's new star-studded team will be better equipped than any to end their rival's era of domination. Provided they don't do a Movistar…
In cycling, we all know that too many cooks can spoil the broth.
Just look at Movistar. Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa all squabbled so much about seasoning, the best recipes and how long to keep their respective ingredients in the oven that Ecuadorian sous-chef Richard Carapaz came along and stirred the pot enough to have other teams salivating for his services.
And in cycling, we all know about spitting in the soup.
With Quintana, Landa and Carapaz now off to ply their trade in different kitchens next year, Movistar's "galactico" project is back to where it started – with a tricenarian Valverde wearing the chef's hat and awaiting a new apprentice (this time it's Enric Mas filling the void seven years after Quintana's arrival).
But there's no reason to think that Jumbo-Visma's accumulation of talent should end up the same way as Movister's failed experiment.
Where Movistar's flavour pairing was on a par with, say, strawberries and tomatoes, Jumbo-Visma have gone down the sage-and-butter route – and all evidence suggests that, with Dumoulin, they can really cook up a storm next year.
'We have one dream'
The move was announced on Monday morning in a rallying video on Jumbo-Visma's Twitter feed. Complete with atmospheric music and an inspiring montage celebrating the team's current stars – including GC riders Kruijswijk, Roglic and Bennett, sprinter Dylan Groenwegen and all-rounder Wout van Aert – the video showcases the team's achievements and unity, before opening the doors to their latest addition.
"We have one dream – winning the biggest race in the world," says the narrator, before adding: "Welcome Tom. Together, we will compete for our dream."
Dumoulin['s public relations manager] later added to that message with the following words in a statement released by Jumbo-Visma:
" I'm looking forward to contributing to that goal – winning a Grand Tour. I was looking for a new challenge and Team Jumbo-Visma is the right team for this. I'm looking forward to it. I started my cycling career with the Rabobank Continental team, a predecessor of the current Team Jumbo-Visma. That's why this step feels a bit like coming home. It's nice to represent the colours of the Dutch team."
Note the addition of "Grand" ahead of "Tour" by Dumoulin's people; if Jumbo-Visma remain convinced that they have what it takes to win the biggest race in the world, their newest recruit has seemingly kept his options open by including the Giro and Vuelta among his targets. But having finished runner-up once, and skipped two of the last three editions, the Tour will be the race the Dutchman wants to add to his impressive palmares.
And so, after eight years, Dumoulin will swap the red of Sunweb for the yellow of Jumbo-Visma – a colour he will hope to sport on the podium in Paris next July.
Where will he fit in?
The short answer is rather snugly inside a team which is capable of firing on all cylinders – from the classics to Grand Tours, sprints to the high mountains.
No more was this emphasised than in this year's Tour, where Jumbo-Visma won the team time trial as well as stages through Groenewegen, van Aert and Mike Teunissen, who donned the race's first maillot jaune. Kruijswijk's first ever Grand Tour podium finish was the cherry on the top and came two months after Roglic himself finished third in the Giro.
Adding a rider who finished on the podium of the last three Grand Tours he completed – following up his 2017 Giro win with back-to-back runner-up spots in the Giro and Tour last year – underlines Jumbo-Visma's ambition.
And with three GC riders and three Grand Tours on the programme, there's no reason why Dumoulin, Roglic and Kruijswijk can't each enter a three-week race as the team's Plan A on one occasion, and as Plan B on another.
It's no surprise that French sport's daily L'Equipe has described Jumbo-Visma as the "Sky hollandaise".
Where this leaves Groenewegen, however, is another matter. Like Mark Cavendish before him, he may find himself surplus to requirements. Playing for both the overall and sprint wins is always complicated – especially now with eight-man teams – and so it would not be a huge surprise if the Dutch sprinter ended up going the other way as a residual part of the deal in January.
After all, look at the difficult decisions Mitchelton-Scott had to make with the emergence of the Yates twins: for all his sprint-winning capability – and this year, he added a hat-trick of Tour wins to his name – Caleb Ewan had to make way. And the Australian team hardly missed him, winning four stages of their own (albeit misfiring in the battle for yellow).
There does remain a question mark over Dumoulin fitness after a troubled season curtailed by injury. There's also his temperament, with the Dutchman capable of being moodier than a Rothko.
It was no secret that Dumoulin's relationship with Sunweb has plummeted this year, with reports of a rift emerging countless times after the 28-year-old questioned the squad's development, transfer policy and handling of his injury.
"The last months have not been fun," Dumoulin admitted on Monday. "I had been walking around for a long time with the feeling that things were not going so well anymore. I couldn't get the best out of myself and we couldn't make each other better."
Like a relationship gone sour, Dumoulin and his manager decided that a divorce was best for both parties. Dumoulin did, however, refer to his antagonistic streak to Dutch media, admitting that his combative relationship with his team was a means of staying competitive – albeit with words that could easily win the Literary Review's annual Bad Sex in Writing Award:
" My manager always said, 'Without friction, no warmth'. That has been the case for eight years. We have rubbed together, but also created a lot of warmth. We have shown super beautiful things. Recently there was friction, but very little heat."
Rather than reach a climax, Dumoulin's time at Sunweb ended a little limply. Rushed back into action in the Dauphine after his race-ending fall in stage 4 of the Giro, Dumoulin aggravated his knee injury and has not returned to action since.
But he leaves a German team that proved rudderless and lacking in ideas and identity in his absence for a Dutch team whose unity and ambition cannot be questioned and where he will join around a dozen of his compatriots, including his close pal Jos Van Emden.
It remains to be seen which Grand Tour he will target next year, with Jumbo-Visma entering the Vuelta – which starts on Saturday – with Kruijswijk, Roglic and Bennett in a three-pronged attack, with support from the experienced Robert Gesink and Tony Martin.
Will Jumbo-Visma have enough to oust Ineos?
By contrast, the team which Jumbo-Visma and Dumoulin hope to topple at next year's Tour de France, Ineos, will field an inexperienced team for the second Grand Tour this season. Tour winners past and present Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal sit things out after their historic one-two in July, while Chris Froome is still some way away from a return following his broken leg.
Geraint Thomas, surrounded by Tom Dumoulin and teammate Chris Froome on the Paris podium of the 2018 Tour de FranceGetty Images
In fact, Ineos's line-up – which will see British youngster Tao Geoghegan Hart share leadership duties with Spaniard David de le Cruz – looks positively pedestrian when set against those of Jumbo-Visma, Movistar (who have Valverde, Quintana and Carapaz) and Astana (with both Izagirre brothers and Jakob Fuglsang supporting leader Miguel Angel Lopez).
But imagine an Ineos squad that includes four-time Tour winner Froome, the previous two Tour winners in Bernal and Thomas, the Giro champion Carapaz, and youngsters Pavel Sivakov and Ivan Sosa – and the enormity of Jumbo-Visma's task becomes apparent.
Whisper it quietly, though, and the Dutch team could well prove the antidote to what many view as the red Ineos poison. On paper, with Dumoulin added to the rich mix, they have a team which could win pretty much every stage of a Grand Tour – whether it's a sprint, time trial, punchy uphill finish or a high-altitude summit showdown.
Compromises may have to be made – a sprinter and a puncheur like Van Aert can't surely feature on the same team with two or three GC riders and their necessary lieutenants. But get the mix right and the Jumbo juggernaut could make the Skybots and the Frat Pack a thing of the past.