Terrifyingly strong. This is how the competition assesses the very dominant performance of team Jumbo-Visma in the Flemish opening weekend. At the start of the cycling season, the classic core immediately put the competition on display. Not only with two victories in their first two races, but especially with a course in which the will of yellow-black is the law in the race.
Criticism for Team Jumbo-Visma
Plugge responded a week earlier to the criticism he receives from a French journalist. While teams such as UAE Emirates, Intermarché – Circus – Wanty and Soudal – Quick Step have nine, six and five victories respectively, the best team of 2022 has only one victory in mid-February. In the intermediate position of the UCI ranking, the Dutch team was still in 24th place a week and a half ago, a so-called relegation spot.
A relegation that is laughed away within the supermarket team. After all, the 2023 season for Jumbo-Visma will not start until the last weekend of February. The opening weekend in Flanders and O Gran Camiño are the first serious measuring points. For the classic core, the Omloop is even the first race of the season. Six of the seven riders from the Omloop and Kuurne come directly from the altitude training in Tenerife.
Wout van Aert
The architect behind this approach is Wout van Aert. Towards the winter 2021/2022, he is committed to taking the same approach with the classic core as with the Tour de France team. The Belgian leader has seen how months of working towards the Tour de France with the entire team are paying off and wonders why this is not done with the men for the Flemish work. Van Aerts’ vision is recognized by head coach Merijn Zeeman. “The importance of the classics is now at a higher level within the team,” says Van Aert in Alicante at the team presentation for the 2022 season.
Especially now that there are two important newcomers to Flemish work, Dylan van Baarle and Jan Tratnik, it’s not just about the training. The team spirit should be stimulated above all. Having the classic core together for a few days, watching video analyzes and discussing the tactics together. Just like before with the Tour, the classics have to haunt the riders for months. Call it mental preparation.
Preparation for Flemish opening weekend
After the joint training camps of the entire team in Denia (December) and Alicante (January), the classic core will travel to the volcano El Teide on Tenerife for three weeks. No preparation via races in Australia, Mallorca, Oman, Bessèges, Algarve or Ruta del Sol, but training hard at height and working towards the big agreements. They consciously pass up the first ‘pancakes’.
They have spent hours discussing Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in the many weeks they have been together. “Racing Principles” is called their tactical log. In the Omloop, the point is indicated about 110 kilometers before the finish around the cobblestones of the Lange Munte and the Kattenberg. In Kuurne the point at 95 kilometers with crosswinds around the steep climbs of Le Bourliquet and Mont Saint-Laurent.
Omloop van het Nieuwsblad
Seven adventurers, without Dutchmen, opted early for the attack in the one-day classic over more than 207 kilometers from Ghent to Ninove. Jumbo-Visma already showed itself about a hundred kilometers from the finish. The Dutch team increased the pace in the peloton, but it turned out to be too early to force a decision. On the Molenberg, with forty kilometers to go, Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma) accelerated. The Frenchman was joined by other favorites such as Tom Pidcock and Arnaud De Lie, who fell just before. This attempt was also made harmless by the thinned peloton.
Shortly after the Molenberg, Van Baarle, still employed by INEOS Grenadiers last year, came out ahead with three other riders, of whom Frenchman Mathis Le Berre, left over from the early breakaway, accompanied him the longest. On the penultimate climb, the famous Muur van Geraardsbergen, Le Berre also had to let go. Van Baarle continued solo. A group of four riders formed behind him, who could not close the gap. Van Baarle had enough time to celebrate the victory on his debut for Jumbo-Visma. Twenty seconds later, Belgian Arnaud De Lie (Lotto Dstny) sprinted to second place. Another Jumbo-Visma rider finished on the podium with Laporte.
Kuurne Brussel Kuurne
The flight of five arose after the ascent of Mont Saint-Laurent. An early leading group, including Van der Hoorn, was caught. The Dutchman from Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, just back from an altitude training camp in Colombia, maintained himself at the front with the Belgian Tim Wellens, the Jumbo men Benoot and Van Hooydonck and Mohoric. The chasing was up to the riders of Soudal – Quick-Step (Fabio Jakobsen) and Lotto Dstny (Arnaud De Lie). They reached the Kluisberg, the last obstacle, after which another fifty fairly flat kilometers followed, with more than a minute and a half behind. The quintet worked well together and the pursuers never got the illusion that a regrouping was still possible.
Jumbo was with two and had to come up with something. Van Hooydonck was taken back by Mohoric 3.5 kilometers before the finish. Benoot took off within the last kilometer and was no longer traced: ,,We had to exploit the fact that there were two of us. When I attacked I also knew that Nathan still had a chance if I didn’t stay ahead.”
The competition has enormous respect for Jumbo-Visma after the Flemish opening weekend. The defeat of the losers at the finish speaks volumes. Towards the major agreements of the spring, it can therefore become all against one. A prospect that Jumbo-Visma has no fear of when asked.