Strap in, because you’re about to take a trip to the speculation station.
Wout will now be in Jumbo’s yellow and black through 2024 – even longer than the team’s current contracts with go-to GC guy Primož Roglič and home hero Tom Dumoulin.
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Whether the reports of an impending move to UK supers-quad Ineos Grenadiers were true or not, van Aert is arguably the hottest property in cycling right now, and the Jumbo-Visma press release confirming the deal gave some tantalizing hints into the negotiation being a tricky one as it pulled out the stops to secure the Belgian asset.
Here’s my take on how Jumbo-Visma kept its star man in yellow and black for years to come.
A Jumbo-sized budget boost?
Let’s face it, money talks, and van Aert and Jumbo-Visma will definitely have talked money.
Ineos Grenadiers packs some serious financial muscle, and even with Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal, Richard Carapaz, and the rest of its warehouse full of winners on the books, it likely could easily outbid mid-budget Jumbo-Visma outfit.
However, with Netherlands-based supermarket chain Jumbo on the expansion into Belgium, having a Belgian bossing the bunch with a brand logo on his chest is worth every penny. Speaking at the start of the year, Jumbo CFO Ton van Veen indicated he was prepared to pull out the stops to have van Aert act as an advertisement on two wheels for years to come.
“Wout van Aert is very important to us for building brand awareness in Belgium and promoting the Jumbo brand in Belgium,” van Veen said. “He still has a commitment for this year, but we want to keep him with us for longer. Those negotiations look very good.”
Beyond Jumbo supermarkets, the team’s new bike sponsor Cervélo could have had a part to play in financing the deal. The Canadian outfit is developing cyclocross bikes specifically to support van Aert and his counterpart on the women’s team Marianne Vos, and any canny manufacturer knows that having a rider win a world championship with its bike beneath them is worth every penny.
Van Aert has won the ‘cross worlds three times, and can certainly do it again. He nearly won the 2020 time trial championships, and he could win this year’s Flandrien road world championships. Cervélo could be contributing more than just a CX frame to Wout’s future at Jumbo-Visma.
Van Aert’s quest for cobblestone glory seems to have been a key sticking point in his negotiations with team bosses in the past few weeks. Though Jumbo-Visma has a swiss-army-knife of a roster capable of doing most things, it’s classics contingent is lacking.
“This is a team that has been evolving continuously in recent years. This also applies to the team around Wout in the spring classics. I think last year’s analysis was that the support was insufficient,” admitted sport director Merijn Zeeman in the press release Thursday.
So far, van Aert has done just fine as a lone wolf in the classics, racing deep into the finals with no wingmen within an echelon’s distance. However, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, UAE-Team Emirates, Ag2r-Citroën, and Trek-Segafredo have all indicated in recent team conferences that numbers could play in their favor as they look to out-race van Aert and the similarly lonely figure of Mathieu van der Poel.
Some day, Jumbo-Visma’s mid-pack classics collective will need to step up to support van Aert, and management knows it. He may have done just fine with just the sporadic help of Mike Teunissen so far, but as teams continue to plot against him and van der Poel, the Roubaix and Flanders wins WvA is seeking will get harder to find.
“We are developing this [our classics program],” Zeeman said. “It will continue in the coming years to also become stronger in this area to give Wout the support he needs.”
Who knows what the “support” will look like, but team boss Richard Plugge could well be throwing some Jumbo supermarket takings at some marquee support riders for Wout in the next three years.
Freedom to move
Last year’s Tour de France showed that Jumbo-Visma is able to harness van Aert’s multi-terrain magic to the full. One day he was dropping the peloton’s best climbers with Roglič on his wheel, the next he was going head-to-head with the purest of sprinters and coming out on top.
Though Ineos Grenadiers boss David Brailsford has indicated he may pivot toward the offensive, aggressive style that the team thrived off at last fall’s Giro d’Italia. However, returning captain Geraint Thomas has suggested he hopes to see a comeback of the suffocating mountain train, and a full abandonment of a tried-and-trusted recipe that has harvested seven yellow jerseys seems unlikely.
Van Aert has it in his wheelhouse to win a green jersey sometime soon, and has indicated it’s on his long list of ambitions. If Ineos returns to its “Fortress Froome” tactic, will Brailsford and Co. let one of the best domestiques in the bunch go spraying his bullets in a bunch sprint? Not on your nelly. Jumbo-Visma lets van Aert go rogue from time to time, and he’s not going to want to let go of the privilege.
Ongoing cyclocross ambitions
Van Aert is placing more and more focus on the tarmac nowadays, but his ‘cross ambitions are clearly far from done. This week, he left the Jumbo-Visma training camp specifically to get muddy in Belgium over the weekend, and that’s a commitment.
Many riders from top teams race across both disciplines, from van der Poel to Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-Victorious) to Joris Nieuwenhuis (Team DSM), and Ineos Grenadiers is set to let newly signed Tom Pidcock do likewise. But would Ineos or any other top team sniffing after WvA give him such freedom to fritter his offseason jumping over barriers and running through mud?
It’s yet to be seen how far Pidcock is able to balance his triple-discipline approach at Ineos Grenadiers, and van Aert perhaps wasn’t willing to gamble. Van Aert needs to be at the top of his game to beat van der Poel when the two face off through the winter, and Wout won’t want anything to limit his freedom to train to beat his archrival to a fourth rainbow jersey.
Jumbo-Visma lets van Aert balance his ambitions, and so Wout wants to keep having his cake and eating it. And who doesn’t like cake?
If it ain’t broke…
The old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rings true.
In just two seasons, Jumbo-Visma has harnessed the raw potential that van Aert showed through his time at Vérandas Willems-Crelan, and has sent him on an exponential upward curve. In his debut WorldTour season, he was already winning Tour de France stages. In 2020 he did almost everything. What next?
Sure, an exponential curve can’t point skyward forever, but Jumbo-Visma knows how to get the best out of van Aert. Ineos Grenadiers may have a bank-busting budget and a battery of technological know-how, but moving teams, no matter how accomplished the new squad is, requires time and a bedding-in process. At 26, and approaching his prime, WvA evidently decided 2021 was not the time to look further afield when he is already comfortable in a team that has made him the best in the business.
Nothing was broken. He saw no need to fix it.