How do you beat Tadej Pogačar at the Tour de France?
Tap soccer strategies and listen to cycling podcasts, that’s how. At least, that’s what Jumbo-Visma did before it delivered Jonas Vingegaard to the top of the Paris podium last weekend.
Jumbo Visma director Merijn Zeeman revealed how the team mined the expertise of soccer super-strategist Erik ten Hag to plot Tadej Pogačar’s downfall this summer.
“Someone who has helped me a lot is Erik ten Hag. Someone from a completely different sport, but I wanted to understand from him: how do you arrive at tactics? Before you make a game plan, what’s behind that? I had the opportunity to talk to him about that a number of times,” Zeeman told NOS this week.
Ten Hag took Ajax to the top of Dutch football at the turn of last decade in a spell of Team Sky-style dominance over the “Eredivisie.”
The Amsterdam-based ‘ballers scored 100 victories from 128 games under Ten Hag’s leadership and his own brand of “tika taka” gameplay. Pressing intensity, manipulation of space and one-two interchange made Ajax all but unstoppable.
“With great talents such as Wout van Aert, Primoz Roglič, Jonas Vingegaard and Steven Kruijswijk in your team, you can also come up with different tactics,” Zeeman said. “Just as good football coaches have good football players at their disposal with whom they can win matches, we can also make plans because you have good riders at your disposal.”
‘GTCC’ and the Galibier
Ten Hag-style teamwork coupled with a little careful research saw Jumbo-Visma execute a brutal bullying offense on an over-confident Pogačar in stage 11 of the Tour.
Vingegaard, Van Aert, Roglič and Christophe Laporte out numbered and out-attacked Pogačar on the flank of the Galibier and cracked him for good on the Granon in what was a stage for the ages. Pogačar tumbled out of the maillot jaune and never saw it again.
“We had already done quite a lot of reconnaissance [before the Tour],” Zeeman said.
“We knew the course better and better. And we also knew what Pogačar was especially good at. But at the top of the agenda was always that one question: where are his weaknesses?
“What kind of team does he have, where can we hit them? And how do you translate that into our qualities in the course?”
Turns out Pogačar himself pointed out the problems in a seemingly uncrackable armor.
Jumbo-Visma plugged in its podcast apps and gathered intel, perhaps from Geraint Thomas’ own “GTCC Podcast.”
Pogačar told his Welsh rival of his weakness on the type of grinding climbs that loomed heavy over the Tour’s now-infamous Alpine stage 22.
“I do a good power on the not-so-long climbs, but sometimes the longer climbs are worse for me, and the high altitude – I think that’s what they already figured out,” Pogačar said on Thomas’ podcast last winter, adding that pre-exhaustion from multiple attacks compounded the problem.
Pogačar foretold his own downfall.
Left isolated by the base of the 17.5-kilometer Galibier, Pogačar parried the Ajax-style one-two of Vingegaard and Co. until he blew big on the Granon and lost his grip on the race with a three-minute defeat.
Jumbo-Visma pulls experience from beyond the peloton
Ten Hag has been credited as a leading tactical mind by figures throughout the sporting spectrum.
Team Uno-X openly credits their all-attacking style to the Dutch coach’s approach, and Manchester United turned to Ten Hag for the upcoming 2022-23 season to reclaim their once-ruthless dominance of soccer’s Premier League.
But Jumbo-Visma doesn’t stop at soccer when looking for inspiration for its forward-thinking approach to training, nutrition and tech.
Zeeman told VeloNews this spring how the team tapped the culture behind Rugby’s all-conquering New Zealand “All Blacks” to instill an open and honest management style free of a top-down hierarchy. Jumbo-Visma also works extensively with Jac Orie, head coach of its partner speed skating team.
“Six years ago, we drew up a plan. We invested in talent development, equipment, workforce, knowledge, and skills,” team boss Richard Plugge said after Vingegaard claimed final victory Sunday.
“Today, the work of the past years all came to a climax. We could not have imagined that this Tour de France would be such a resounding success for our team.”
Ten Hag will be hoping for similar success for his ailing Manchester United soccer squad in the coming Premier League season.
🗣️Erik Ten Hag: “I’m here to restore Manchester United where they belong. I’m highly motivated to get that done.” pic.twitter.com/2EcP9UR4Mk
— ManUnited Fan (@malibur76) July 19, 2022