HATTA DAM, United Arab Emirates (VN) — The crux of Wednesday’s stage 4 of the UAE Tour came with just seven kilometers remaining. Former time trial world champion Tom Dumoulin surged off the front of the peloton, bent down into his aerodynamic position, and pedaled away.
Behind, race leader Primoz Roglic motioned his Jumbo-Visma teammate Tony Martin to the front of the diminished peloton, alongside teammates Tom Leezer and Paul Martens. For a tense few moments, Dumoulin’s advantage continued to grow, until Jumbo-Visma’s pace cut into the gap.
After a few kilometers, Dumoulin fell back to the group.
“Tony did a really great job. He was pulling really strong,” Roglic said after the finish. “We were able to get [Dumoulin] quite fast.”
It’s no secret that the weeklong UAE Tour represents an important fitness test for Roglic on his path to the Giro d’Italia, where he will try to win his first grand tour. This desert race is also an important stepping-stone for Jumbo-Visma’s other riders. Five of Roglic’s six teammates here are on a similar racing schedule aimed at the Giro. After the UAE Tour, they will race Tirreno-Adriatico and complete a training camp together.
The team’s ability to work in unison — let’s say, to pull back a time trial world champion in the waning kilometers of an important stage — could be the key to winning the team’s first grand tour.
“It is important that they know exactly how everybody will react and what they will do in the important moments,” said Addy Engels, Jumbo-Visma’s sport director. “It’s also important that the group works in a social way. They will have interactions with each other.”
Thus far, Jumbo-Visma’s team “interactions” appear to be very positive. The squad blazed an impressive team time trial to lead off the race, toppling Dumoulin’s powerhouse Sunweb squad by seven seconds. The team’s next major test came two days later on the summit finish to Jebel Hafeet.
Jumbo-Visma sprinted up the lower slopes of the climb to thin out the peloton before 23-year-old Belgian climber Laurens De Plus took over and pulled for the climb’s lower half. When De Plus pulled off, Roglic then attacked.
Only world champion Alejandro Valverde beat Roglic to the line.
“On the climb, it was really a team effort — them doing everything for their leader,” Engels said. “Getting him into position and keeping the good position. It paved the way for him to make his move.”
Behind the scenes, Jumbo’s Giro squad has also fostered a sense of camaraderie around the dinner table. Roglic called the first four days of racing a “useful experience” due to the team’s time together both on and off of the bike.
“OK, we don’t really have some big climbs or something, but we have ridden really strong at the front of the race,” Roglic said. “It’s been a pleasure to be a part of it.”
Dutch rider Jos van Emden, a 13-year veteran of the team, said the squad’s blend of older and younger riders has helped the team’s dynamic throughout the race. Van Emden, Leezer, Martin, and Martens are all in their mid-30s, while Roglic, De Plus, and Koen Bouwman are all in their 20s. Van Emden said he was already familiar with the strengths of his fellow veteran, and this week he’s been able to glimpse the talents of his younger teammates too.
“It’s a bit older team and this is a more experienced squad,” Van Emden said. ” We have lots of fun and everybody will take and do what Primoz says what to do. It’s a really relaxed atmosphere.”
Whether the relaxed atmosphere can help Roglic maintain his lead at the UAE Tour, and perhaps win the Giro, is yet to be seen. Van Emden said that squad’s mellow vibe starts with its leader. Roglic, he said, keeps things cool, both at meals and during the race.
“He is confident and he is relaxed,” Van Emden said.