PESARO, Italy (VN) — With the early exit of Laurens De Plus, Jumbo-Visma is down a key climber as the Giro d’Italia slowly pedals toward the decisive second half of the race.
Not only will Primoz Roglic be short one set of legs, but there’s always a growing question mark if he will have enough experienced riders around him deep in the mountains compared to his direct rivals.
Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels said the team is fully confident its young fleet of climbers it brought to support Roglic in the Alps and Dolomites is up to the task.
“Losing [Robert] Gesink before the Giro was a loss because he had the experience,” Engels said. “The other guys have the legs to go a long way in the mountains. I would rather have the legs than have a rider with experience but not with the legs.”
Jumbo-Visma is making its first major push for overall victory in a grand tour.
The team has been on a tear this spring with Roglic, winning three consecutive stage races he started. For this Giro, the team brought along a mix of youth and experience.
They have seasoned road captains for the transition stages, but a trio of young, but very motivated climbers for what everyone agrees is a brutal second half of the Giro.
Sepp Kuss, 24, Koen Bouwman and Antwan Tolhoek, both 25, are all solid climbers and will be hoping to respond when they need to in the later part of the Giro.
“I am coming into this Giro fresher than I was going to the Vuelta last year,” Kuss said. “We are all super-motivated. There’s no reason we cannot carry on.”
De Plus’s early exit came as a surprise.
The Belgian climber came down with a sore throat early in the Giro and simply lost all power in his legs. When the speed ramped Friday, De Plus was dropped. He floated in the team cars and tried in vain to chase back to the bunch. He kept drifting further back and lost contact.
With De Plus gone, there will be more pressure on a trio of young riders, though it’s not as though they are completely spring chickens. Although Kuss is starting only his second grand tour, Bouwman has raced four and Tolhoek three.
“Primoz is a good leader on the road, and we can coach them a bit from the car,” Engels said of the young climbers. “We’ll see where everyone stands after the first big climbs.”
What the team might lack in the mountains, it brings a lot of experience on the flats. Grand tour veterans Tom Leezer, Paul Martens and Jos Van Emden have been helping to keep Roglic out of trouble in the opening week.
Roglic is emerging as one of the top favorites for overall victory in this Giro. His other direct rivals, however, all bring teams loaded up with experienced veterans to cover all facets of the race.
Vincenzo Nibali’s Bahrain-Merida is packed with seasoned veterans for the flats and the climbs.
Mitchelton-Scott brings its strongest team to support Simon Yates, with former Giro podium finisher Esteban Chaves, Mikel Nieve and Christopher Juul-Jensen and Brent Bookwalter and Jack Bauer on the flats. Only Lucas Hamilton is a grand tour rookie.
Astana probably has the deepest GC squad in the race to support Miguel Angel Lopez, including confirmed winners Ion Izagirre, Dario Cataldo, Pello Bilbao, and Andrey Zeits all riding in support.
Will that collective experience and depth be a disadvantage to Jumbo-Visma’s relative inexperience in the mountains? Engels said legs always count more than statistics.
“We believe our climbers will be there for Primoz,” Engels said. “And at the end of the stages, it’s going to be each man against the other. The strongest will win.”
Roglic is emerging as one of the strongest so far in this Giro. Though there has yet to be a major climb to truly test the mettle of the climbers, Roglic was clearly the best in the opening time trial in Bologna.
Apart from a big crash early in Thursday’s stage that caught up several riders, including Roglic, the former ski jumper has been otherwise avoiding trouble. Roglic let the jersey go that day, in part taking pressure off the team for a few days even though they are still hovering near the front of the bunch to avoid mishaps and surprises on the road.
So even without De Plus, the team is confident Roglic can carry the day.
“The next big day is the time trial,” Roglic said. “The team has been doing a good job protecting me.”
One unexpected bonus — De Plus was Roglic’s designated roommate during the Giro. So from now on, the team leader will have a room all to himself.