Strength in numbers: How Jumbo-Visma and SD Worx have bossed the run-up to Tour of Flanders

The Dutch super-teams are dominating the Classics, making it look easy. With so many options, can they be stopped?

SD Worx and Jumbo-Visma Classics winners
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you had switched on the men's or women's Dwars door Vlaanderens with a kilometre to go on Wednesday afternoon, you would be forgiven for thinking you were experiencing déjà vu. 

Once again, at a cobbled Classic, a man in the colours of Jumbo-Visma, or a woman in the colours of SD Worx, rode off the front and could simply not be brought back. 

The two Dutch squads have made it look ridiculously easy so far in the Classics in 2023, repeatedly employing a plan that seems simple, but yet other teams can't come close to countering. It looks increasingly like it might happen again on Sunday at the Tour of Flanders.

At Dwars, it was Christophe Laporte and Demi Vollering; at Gent-Wevelgem, it was Laporte and Marlen Reusser; at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, it was Dylan van Baarle and Lotte Kopecky. In the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, Wout van Aert triumphed, with his teammate Tiesj Benoot winning Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. Lorena Wiebes got in on the act for SD Worx at Craywinckelhof.

This means that Jumbo-Visma has won five out of the five cobbled Classics they have raced this season, a feat that no other team has achieved this century. Various iterations of Quick-Step have come close, winning three of the five in 2019, 2012 and 2007, but never a clean sweep.

Meanwhile, SD Worx has won four out of the four cobbled races they have taken part of in 2023, which has never been done by a woman's team; squads have managed two out of the four before, but never all of them.

The tactic is simple, and incredibly similar, for all of the wins (apart from Wiebes' and Van Aert's): ensure there are multiple options in a reduced peloton, and then attack solo, whether from far out or close to the finish, in the knowledge that there is a backup rider(s) in the chasing group, should the move fail.

With the attack from the smaller bunch hanging off the front, it is always difficult for a chasing group to organise itself, with often the only riders present being their team's respecitve leaders. It is always hard to put your ego to one side and work hard, knowing that there is always another Jumbo or SD Worx option in amongst your number ready to snatch the fruits of your labour. 

That's not to mention the fact that those Jumbo and SD Worx riders have also done a mighty fine job of getting in the way and disrupting any spirited chase.

It is the kind of plan that leaves ardent cycling fans scratching their heads, because it seems so effortless. Explaining cycling to a non-fan is so often a case of going "well, they can't just ride off the front". Except, in this case, they can.

This is easy to say, it is less easy to do. It is not like other teams have not tried something similar, or don't have the numbers to make this count. It is the strength of the riders involved that makes it such a powerful strategy, makes it work time and time again.

There are other squads with a coterie of solid riders, like Ineos Grenadiers, with Tom Pidcock, Ben Turner, Magnus Sheffield, Jhonatan Narváez and Michał Kwiatkowski, or Trek-Segafredo with Elisa Longo Borghini, Lucinda Brand and Elisa Balsamo, but in the spring of 2023 they simply do not seem to be as strong as Jumbo-Visma or SD Worx.

The fact that the two Dutch squads have the outstanding favourites among their number does not hurt them, obviously - Van Aert and Kopecky - but it is their ability to be backed up by riders who are on the level of other team's best options which makes them unstoppable.

Laporte, for instance, would be a team leader at most other squads, but will likely sacrifice his chances in order to support Van Aert at the Tour of Flanders this Sunday. Perhaps this is why the latter felt the need to gift him the win at Gent-Wevelgem, a thank-you present in advance.

Kopecky, or Vollering, likewise, can rely on the likes of Reusser to soften up the opposition. This is what happened at Dwars door Vlaanderen, where Reusser's 30km attack, accompanied by Marianne Vos, meant Vollering could sit on, wait for the move to be caught - if it was - and then fly off the front.

The other favourites at Flanders do not have this luxury.

Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar might be on the same level as Van Aert, but their Alpecin-Deceuninck and UAE Emirates squads do not have the same level of threat as Jumbo.

Likewise, Annemiek van Vleuten or Vos might be seen as among the best bets for the win at the women's race on Sunday, but they can't rely on a similar level of support or array of attacking talent as Kopecky and Vollering.

The concept of strength in numbers, with an outstanding favourite, is nothing new; it was the maxim that the various Quick-Step teams operated on for years, with Tom Boonen or Philipe Gilbert benefiting from the likes of Niki Terpstra or Yves Lampaert riding alongside them.

It is just that in this season of SD Worx/Jumbo-Visma dominance, the perfect set of riders appears to have come together to make the result seem almost inevitable. Perhaps it won't work on the biggest stage of all, the Tour of Flanders, but when the  moment comes - and it will come - when a man in yellow or a woman in purple charges off the front the fans on the roadside will likely, rightly, turn back to their beers and frites.

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