What can cycling learn from football? How Manchester United's new manager inspired Jumbo-Visma's Tour de France tactics

Jumbo-Visma DS Merijn Zeeman leaned on Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag in order to find a way to beat Tadej Pogačar

Jumbo-Visma Tour de France Erik ten Hag Manchester United
(Image credit: Getty Images)

While Erik ten Hag attempted to implement his training philosophies on his new Manchester United side during their preseason Tour of Australia in July, his tactics were being utilised to greater effect much closer to home.

Following a disappointing two Tours de France for the team, Jumbo-Visma entered the 2022 edition looking to topple the seemingly indomitable Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). The Slovenian had devastated Primož Roglič and Jumbo-Visma's hearts at the 2020 Tour de France with a stunning time trial performance, before storming to a successive victory a year later.

Jumbo-Visma were left scratching their heads. Just how could they beat the unbeatable?

On stage 11 of the 2022 Tour de France, though, they got their answer. Jonas Vingegaard struck a knockout blow to Tadej Pogačar up the Col du Granon, helping him on his way to the overall victory. 

However, this didn't just happen by chance. No, it was a carefully constructed attack inspired by one of sport's current geniuses and Manchester United's newest manager, Erik ten Hag. 

As Vingegaard returned to a heroes welcome in his native Denmark, Jumbo-Visma DS Merijn Zeeman explained how fellow Dutchman Ten Hag offered his pearls of wisdom. 

"Someone who has helped me a lot is Erik ten Hag," Zeeman told Dutch outlet NOS (opens in new tab). "Someone from a completely different sport, but I wanted to understand from him: how do you arrive at tactics? What is the essence of your sport for you? Before you makes a game plan, what's behind that? I've had the opportunity to talk to him about that a number of times.

"Because with great talents such as Wout van Aert, Primož Roglič, Jonas Vingegaard and Steven Kruijswijk in your team, you can also come up with different tactics. Just as good football coaches have good football players at their disposal with whom they can win matches, we can also make plans because we have good riders at our disposal."

After studying countless races of Pogačar's, and even listening to podcasts where he discussed his weaknesses, the team grew ever closer to constructing a plan which would ultimately leave the UAE Team Emirates rider reeling. 

"[In April] we really started preparing for the Tour. We had already done quite a lot of reconnaissance. We knew the course better and better. And we also knew what Pogačar was especially good at.

"We were still looking for that. What are his pitfalls, where is his weakness, what kind of team does he have, where can we hit them? And how do you translate that into our qualities in the course?"

Of course, the team eventually settled on stages 11 and 12 as the ones where they could cause the most damage. The plan? To attack Pogačar on the Col du Galibier and Col du Granon with both Vingegaard and Roglič - who at this stage was still in GC contention - leaving the two-time winner with little choice but to follow and expend double the energy the Jumbo-Visma pair were. 

What transpired proved a Jumbo-Visma masterstroke, with Vingegaard storming up to the summit to finish 2-51 ahead of Pogačar, something he failed to recover from for the remainder of the Tour. 

The Ten Hag effect goes both ways, though.

Earlier this week, Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe welcomed Sir Dave Brailsford to the team's preseason training camp in Lisbon, with the Ineos Grenadiers general manager giving a talk to the players and staff about his renowned marginal gains philosophy. 

"Brailsford has overseen so much success in specific disciplines," Howe said, "but his principles are transferrable to any competitive sporting environment. It was great for him to spend some time with the group, to share his insights and to stimulate thought and discussion as we approach the new season."

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Staff Writer

Ryan is a staff writer for Cycling Weekly, having joined the team in September 2021. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before making his way to cycling. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer.