Jumbo-Visma came into the Tour de France with one goal – win the yellow jersey.
That has been the case since the Dutch team announced their squad back in 2019, more than half a year before the Grand Départ in Nice.
Wout van Aert, having won Strade Bianche, Milan – San Remo and a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné, said he was enjoying winning while he could, because at the Tour he would change role to become the team’s workhorse, as the Dutch team redoubled their efforts to try and break Ineos’s hold on the overall classification.
But as the Tour came around something changed: Van Aert has been sprinting…and winning.
With two stage victories and a third-place finish on stage eleven. The photo finish yesterday shows Van Aert’s speed is up there with the fastest guys at this year’s French Grand Tour.
But why is he even taking part in the sprints?
Team Sky took Mark Cavendish to the 2012 Tour de France, where they somehow managed to balance winning the yellow jersey with Bradley Wiggins as well as delivering the Manxman with three stage wins, one of which was on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The next year they took Edvald Boasson Hagen, but since then no sprinter has been included in their Tour roster.
Jumbo-Visma also has their own pure sprinter capable of picking up wins in the fast finishes in Dylan Groenewegen, but the team had already taken the decision to leave the Dutchman behind to focus on their GC ambitions, even before the incident at the Tour of Poland involving Fabio Jakobsen.
Current yellow jersey wearer Primož Roglič the team prefer to see how the flat stages go before giving Van Aert the green light to go for personal glory.
“We always say in the team meeting at the beginning that we will see how the stage goes,” Roglič explained after stage 11. “And at the end if he can still do a sprint then we make that decision, because today for me it was also a safe point after it had got narrow and the downhill.”
On stage 10, for instance, when crosswinds caused jitters across the bunch, Van Aert was kept busy piloting Roglič to the finish on a nervy stage for any rider, let alone the race leader.
“The whole team had a big challenge with this stressful stage today, which everyone did a perfect job again to keep me safe and out of the wind,” Roglič said after stage 10. “[Van Aert] needed to do a lot of work and I’m just really thankful. I’m wearing the yellow jersey but everyone is doing their part to keep it.”
But the next day, Van Aert was relieved of his duties to keep the leader safe in the final, finishing third in the dash for the line in Poitiers. A decent result, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, as Sagan was relegated for shoving Wout van Aert in the closing metres. Van Aert stayed upright, but it could easily have been a very different story.
The question is, what if Wout van Aert had come down in the bunch sprint yesterday? The 25-year-old has proved to be one of Roglič’s key lieutenants in the mountains so far, driving the pace and dropping the domestiques of Jumbo-Visma’s GC rivals.
“If I was sports director at Jumbo-Visma, I would take Van Aert out of the sprint from now on, actually this should have happened after his second stage victory,” Johan Bruyneel wrote in Wielerflits.
“Of course, they are completely satisfied with him and he is simply the best rider in the world at the moment. He no longer has to prove that. From now on they need him fully, fully equipped after every ride, in the climbing train for Roglič.”
Only time will tell if Jumbo-Visma can have it all – the yellow jersey and bunch sprint stage victories. Maybe it’s simply how the team is keeping everyone sweet and managing the ambition of their most talented riders.
But there is no doubt that they got away with one yesterday.