The German squad has been the team of chaos, the squad of disruption and danger. Throughout the race Sunweb riders have attacked again and again, driving each stage’s long and doomed breakaways as if the upcoming finish line was the final one of the race. To watch Sunweb has been like watching two over-caffeinated teenagers play a game of Madden. It’s a cavalcade of Hail Marys and Flea Flickers, with not a single run up the middle.
And the strategy is making hay! On Saturday Sunweb scored its second breakaway stage win after pummeling the peloton with a flurry of attacks into Lyon. Tiesj Benoot was first to go, surging out of the peloton on a punchy climb 10km to the finish. Benoot’s move drew out more attacks, until the peloton was shattered and gasping for reprieve. It was at that moment that Søren Kragh Andersen bolted from the group and powered away for the win.
As Kragh Andersen sped to the finish, the group barely mounted a chase. It was as if the other teams in the race simply tapped their chins at once and said, ‘uncle.’ Sunweb punches with all of its riders, and at some point, the peloton has had enough.
“The guys bounce off of each other — they have a really good team spirit,” said the team’s coach Matt Winston after the win. “They are all just in for a Sunweb win.”
Indeed, TV cameras caught sight of the Sunweb riders congratulating each other at the finish. I leapt up from my computer, punched the air in joy, and for a minute wished that I could reach through my monitor screen and high five Benoot and Kragh Andersen and Marc Hirschi, too. After all, Sunweb seems like the type of cycling team I’d want to be part of.
After the finish, Kragh Andersen said in a TV interview that the squad was ‘not the superstars’ at this year’s Tour de France.
“They made it hard enough that I could find this moment when I went,” Kragh Andersen said. “We are taking the race in our hands. We race. We maybe just don’t realize it’s the Tour de France.”
My affection for Sunweb at this race also springs from the team’s decision to torpedo its recent Tour strategy in favor of an aggressive and more risky one.
During the last two Tours de France we saw Team Sunweb ride with the calculating and controlled — if somewhat boring — style that is required of squads chasing yellow and green. After a monumental 2017 Tour, which saw Sunweb win two stages with Warren Barguil, two with Michael Matthews, and the green jersey, the squad stepped into the exclusive realm of teams chasing Tour jerseys.
Being in that privileged realm comes with consequences and discipline, and gone are the doomed attacks and daily aggression. Instead, the team must sacrifice and race with a methodical focus toward one goal. And that’s exactly what Sunweb did. The team shepherded Tom Dumoulin to second place overall in 2018. Then, in 2019, its dual focus with Matthews and Wilco Kelderman bore no fruit. And, to be honest, the team’s racing style was just a bit boring.
Thus, it’s been great to see Sunweb return to its focus on chaos and stage wins. That’s what made me a fan of this team back in 2015 and 2016, when Dumoulin and Simon Geschke were the heroes of the long break.
And, to be honest, I was somewhat dubious of Sunweb on the eve of this year’s race. The team left Matthews off of its squad — a move that saw him depart for Mitchelton-Scott in 2021 — and instead brought a lineup of young and veteran breakaway riders, in addition to sprinter Cees Bol. Sunweb learned early in the race that Bol simply didn’t have the legs to challenge Sam Bennett and Caleb Ewan in the sprint, and so it abandoned the bunch kicks in favor of breakaways.
Those breakaways have succeeded and added a heavy dose of spice to this already picante Tour. Marc Hirschi’s oh-so-close solo move on stage 9 left us all clutching our faces after he lost the sprint for third. Then, just a few days later, Hirschi’s big solo breakaway win into Sarran had me screaming at my computer yet again.
Hey, a lot of us have had to retool and refocus at some point in our lives. Maybe it was that career path that didn’t work out, or the relationship that came and went. Sitting there, planning for your future goals can seem like a lost cause.
The next time I find myself in such a jam, perhaps I’ll think of Team Sunweb, the squad that tossed away its dogged pursuit of yellow and green, and instead hauled eight agents of chaos to the Tour de France and kicked some butt.