And it was Team Ineos who was quickest to downplay the rivalry and the significance of the result.
“Jumbo? it is not necessarily a battle between Jumbo and Ineos, there has other very strong teams, other very strong riders,” said Team Ineos’s GC leader, Egan Bernal. “It is necessary respect everyone.”
Sure, Wout van Aert’s stunning sprint victory during Wednesday’s stage 1 at the Critérium du Dauphiné earned Jumbo-Visma its 10th pro victory for 2020, and secured the yellow race leader’s jersey for the Dutch squad.
Yet it was the crucial events just prior to van Aert’s explosive acceleration that was most impressive. As the front group rumbled through the final 15-kilometers to the finish, six Jumbo-Visma riders amassed on the front in a formidable train and tapped out a relentless pace. It was a show of hammer-like dominance that we’ve come to associate with Team Sky/Ineos over the past decade at the Tour de France and its warmup race, the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Only this time, Jumbo-Visma was the hammer, and Team Ineos was the nail.
First, it was Robert Gesink who took control — the Dutchman rode at the front of Jumbo-Visma’s six-man line from 15km until 5km to go. Then, American Sepp Kuss took over, pulling for 2.5 more kilometers to the summit of the day’s final climb.
Where was Team Ineos? Overhead shots of the peloton showed the British squad trailing Jumbo-Visma for the first half of the battle, riding to protect its GC stars Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal. Then, as the peloton made its final push to the line, the camera showed Team Ineos’s riders tossed about the peloton like burgundy marbles in a child’s toy chest.
Only Bernal and Thomas remained behind Jumbo-Visma’s train. The biggest casualty of the day was Chris Froome, who simply couldn’t match the pace of the Dutch squad. Froome dropped off the back with teammate Jonathan Castroveijo just inside 4km to go, well before accelerations and attacks from the peloton’s GC hopefuls shredded the group.
Meanwhile, Jumbo-Visma switched from offense to defense, and began controlling attacks like a gorilla swatting away flies. Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling) was first to go, bolting away with countryman Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic). Jumbo-Visma’s GC man Primož Roglič shut the move down himself, bolting across the gap with ease. Then, Pierre Latour (AG2R-La Mondiale) tried his hand, only to see Tom Dumoulin roll up to his wheel with ease. When Tiesj Benoot (Team Sunweb) went, Dumoulin and van Aert snuffed it out.
Another overhead shot of the peloton, this one inside 2km to go, showed only Bernal and Kwiatkowski among the front 20 riders. Jumbo-Visma, meanwhile, had five riders in the group. So strong was the Dutch squad that it simply went back to work on the front, this time with Steven Kruijswijk, who along with Dumoulin controlled the pace until the final kick to the line.
After his win van Aert said it was his team’s show of strength that gave him extra motivation to bang home the victory.
“All of these strong leaders to pull for me in the end – I had so much motivation to go all out in the sprint,” he said.
Bernal salvaged the day, to be sure, finishing third place with Roglič on his wheel. But the way that Jumbo-Visma so thoroughly dominated the British squad was clear for everyone to see.
So, what do we make of stage 1, and is it a harbinger of what to expect at the Tour?
Caveats to Jumbo-Visma’s punishing strength abound, of course. It was just the opening stage of the race, and everyone had fresh legs. Will Jumbo-Visma’s strongmen be able to execute dominance like this after 17 or 18 days of racing, when the Tour hits its decisive climbs in the Alps?
The squad is unquestionably strong, with two grand tour winners (Roglič and Dumoulin), and the third-place finisher from last year’s Tour on its hit squad. These guys have all proven their ability to perform over three weeks, even if they have never controlled a race a la Team Ineos at the Tour.
But of course, today’s performance came at the Dauphiné, not the Tour, and five days of racing is easier to control than 21. Maybe Team Ineos are simply playing possum — cycling maestro David Brailsford is just letting his emboldened rival build up a fresh feeling of hubris before unleashing some secret and unforeseen strategic masterclass come September.
These are all real possibilities, of course. But there’s also the real possibility that alarm bells are going off inside Fortress Ineos, especially after television cameras caught its four-time Tour champ getting dropped on a mellow climb, long before rouleurs and even classics riders lost pace. Froome is slated to be an important member of Team Ineos’s train to help Bernal win. And by riding idly by as Jumbo-Visma bossed around the peloton, Team Ineos may be giving its rival the experience and confidence to win in September.