From one of the least successful teams in the race, to winning for fun. Jumbo Visma have turned their team around in the last two years, and done it off the back of the humble time trial. James Shrubsall found out how.
The yellow team became the team in yellow. When Mike Teunissen gurned and wrestled his way to the first victory of this year’s Tour de France, there can’t be many who failed to notice the happy synchronicity between Jumbo-Visma’s in-house colour scheme and the Tour’s maillot jaune. How fortuitous that everything from the riders’ helmets to the team bus matched the most sought after garment in cycling.
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Perhaps it was fate. More likely it was the result of a lot of hard work.
Or as the team’s cheerful Kiwi climber George Bennett put it: “It was only a matter of time really.” Four-and-a-half seasons ago in 2014, when Dutch supermarket Jumbo — pronounced ‘yoombo’ to the uninitiated — first dipped a toe into WorldTour cycling sponsorship, the team racked up the rather ignominious total of six wins. It was the smallest figure across all 17 WorldTour teams that year, by some way, nearly 50 per cent less than next-least-winningest Cannondale.
Jumbo was the team’s second sponsor, next to the Dutch national lottery, LottoNL, and it boasted a 90 per cent Dutch roster which featured talent and experience in equal measure. Riders like Robert Gesink, Steven Kruijswijk and Sep Vanmarcke all suggested a great deal of potential, but the Jumbo supermarket bacon simply wasn’t brought home.
Pertinently, the Dutch team’s 2014 iteration, Belkin, had enjoyed 23 victories: the new sponsors were witnessing a significant dip in numbers of riders crossing finishing lines while pointing ecstatically at the branding on their jerseys.
However, in the four years since, the Jumbo team has increased its win tally year on year to the point where now, halfway through the season, it has already scored 37 wins. That’s already more than the record 33 the team amassed in the whole of last season.
The opening days of the Tour exemplified this. In last year’s team time trial at Cholet on stage three, LottoNL-Jumbo as they were then still called, registered a relatively lowly 13th. This year — not to use the word lightly — they smashed the entire field, retaining yellow in the process.
How did this transition happen?
“If you look at the TTT, it’s a project for many years,” explains Jumbo directeur sportif Merijn Zeeman. “Our performance manager Mathieu Heijboer, he’s put so much effort into time trialling, into team time trialling — that’s so big, it’s Formula One.
“We lost one minute and 10 seconds or something [it was in fact 1.15] in the Tour last year, so of course it was a very important point to improve. It’s a part of the GC strategy,” he added.
The team this year are riding in support of Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk, who was fifth overall last year. Kruijswijk was part of the team back in 2015, but by and large this is a very different team in terms of personnel. Comparing the 2015 Tour squad to this year’s, only one man remains the same, and that’s Kruijswijk.
You can read the full feature in this week’s Cycling Weekly magazine. Available in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25