As the shudders of a 3.7 magnitude earthquake were felt on British soil in South Wales last weekend, an even bigger tremor clad in yellow and blue lycra tore across the cobblestones of Belgium.
Earthquakes in Flanders are thankfully as rare as they are here in the UK. Although when they do come along, they're significant. This weekend's certainly was.
Not only did Jumbo-Visma win both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne through debutant Dylan van Baarle and Tiesj Benoot respectively, they also had both Christophe Laporte and Nathan Van Hooydonck on the podium to complete a stunning weekend for the team.
The Dutch squad have firmly now replaced Soudal-Quick Step as the team to beat in the classics, and not only that, they’ve done it with such aplomb that even Patrick Lefevere was impressed.
"I didn't come back from Rwanda for this," Lefevere said on Sunday. "In the end, we have to conclude that Jumbo-Visma are now the team we were a few years ago. They dominate and we have been found out.”
All was not lost for Lefevere’s squad this weekend. Remco Evenepoel wrapped up overall victory at the UAE Tour, and Julian Alaphilippe took the win at the Faun-Ardèche Classic. However, the point remains that Soudal-Quick Step suffered their first Opening Weekend since 2018 without a victory.
Jumbo-Visma being a Dutch team simply rubbed salt in the wounds.
In the past few years, much of Quick Step’s success has been centred around the classics through riders like Alaphilippe and Kasper Asgreen. Alaphilippe won both Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche in 2019 and Asgreen took victory at the Tour of Flanders and E3 Saxo classics in 2021.
However, Remco Evenepoel’s success at the Vuelta a Espana last year seemed to signal a change of direction for the Belgian team as they look to another grand tour victory with Evenepoel in 2023.
Meanwhile, Jumbo-Visma are rapidly showing that shrewd and calculated business in the transfer market ensures you can target a variety of races in the calendar year and not place all your eggs in a single basket.
GAME CHANGING RECRUITMENT STRATEGY
Van Baarle’s performance on Saturday reiterated the outstanding recruitment strategy in place at the Dutch squad, something which first became apparent in 2022 with the acquisition of both Laporte and Benoot.
The Dutchman’s performance bore many similarities to his Paris-Roubaix victory last year for Ineos Grenadiers, with him sneaking largely under the radar into the breakaway before he ignited the afterburners and disappeared into the distance.
Van Baarle isn’t a rider who draws your attention in the same way as the likes of Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. The Dutchman lacks that same explosivity and panache which the duo utilise to such devastating purposes, although his style is equally as effective. Van Baarle is a massive engine, it’s as simple as that and money well spent indeed.
What he lacks in panache the 30-year-old makes up for with the ability to set such a ridiculous tempo that other riders simply can’t live with him. A style which isn’t exactly breathtaking to watch, but certainly is to follow as Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa Samsic) found out on the Muur van Geraardsbergen on Saturday.
Even without Wout van Aert at Strade Bianche this weekend, Jumbo-Visma can call upon a fearsome arsenal to challenge for the honours in Italy.
In Benoot, Van Baarle, Laporte and Jan Tratnik in particular, they possess four riders signed in the past two-years with a proven ability of performing in a one day setting as well as in a three-week Grand Tour in support of the likes of Jonas Vingegaard.
Both Laporte and Benoot were instrumental in the Danish riders Tour de France victory last year.
Once you’ve added a fit and healthy Van Aert back into the picture, Jumbo-Visma suddenly look like an unbeatable team across all settings.
The spine now in place across the squad also means that if Van Aert lacks the killer punch at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix later in the year, the Jumbo hierarchy can rest easy, safe in the knowledge that his teammates are more than capable of delivering.
Meanwhile in Spain last weekend, Vingegaard completed his impressive sweep of the O Gran Camiño stage race underlining his climbing credentials for when the bigger races start to arrive.
Get set for more Jumbo-Visma shaped earthquakes this year. All the signs point to the fact that they’re definitely coming.
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