Jumbo-Visma may not be the winningest team in cycling. No, that honor once again goes to the Deceuninck-Quick-Step team with no less than 38 individual victories. But in the eyes of many, including the UCI official rankings announced on Tuesday, the best team in the world this past season is the powerhouse Dutch-based Jumbo-Visma squad.
The UCI ranking, of course, no only calculates victories but also placings in all of the world’s top races.
And as the dust settles after the Vuelta a España, the final race of the dense restart to the 2020 season, it is indeed impressive to consider the dominance of the yellow-and-black-clad squad, who clearly came into their own this year.
Primož Roglič and Wout Van Aert, the team possessed no less than two of the top three riders ranked in the UCI standings. Roglič, with his recent victory in the Vuelta as well as his runner-up spot in the Tour de France, is the most consistent stage race rider in the world at the moment. And Van Aert, with victories in both the Strade Bianche as well as Milano-Sanremo, could make a similar argument when it comes to one-day racing.
“When you see it on paper and see or hear all of podiums, all of the victories, from the classics to the grand tours, it’s special,” New Zealand’s George Bennett said of the team’s memorable season while speaking with Eurosport UK after stage 18 of the Vuelta last week. “It’s a special group of riders and there are a lot of special people behind the scenes that make it happen. Last year was a big year, the year we arrived, and this year I think we even took a step up. Now the big task will be staying here.”
Bennett said flatly that there was no rocket science involved in the team’s rise to the top. But he hinted that the marginal gains formula made popular over the past decade by Team Sky / Ineos Grenadiers, was a big part of the team’s transformation. “We copied Ineos in a way and now people will come for us. And I think people look at what we did and say, ‘Okay this is the future.’”
Obviously, a big part of the team’s success was due to the string of success by the Slovenian standout Primož Roglič. Although Roglič skipped the early season, he fought for victory in virtually race he entered once racing resumed after the first wave of coronavirus hit Europe this spring.
In early August he won preparation races like the Tour de l’Ain and was leading the Critérium du Dauphiné before a crash forced him out. And then in the Tour de France, he went on to win a stage and wear the yellow jersey for 11 days before finishing second. He quickly bounced back, however, with a gutsy victory over world champion Julian Alaphilippe in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, one of cycling’s Monuments. But he arguably saved the best for last, with his masterful performance in the Vuelta a España. Despite the accumulated fatigue of the previous three months, he nevertheless won three stages and the red jersey awarded to the winner.
For Roglič himself, the victory in Spain, his second consecutive Vuelta title was particularly satisfying. “I rate this victory very highly because it is part of the great season that I have had,” he said in a Jumbo-Visma press release this week. “We should be happy that, given the situation in the world, we were able to ride the Vuelta this year.”
“It has been a long season and he has been there from the very beginning,” Roglič’s Sports director Grischa Niermann added. “He is number one in the world for the second year in a row. He can win races in several areas and he is always there for the team. That says enough. He is an absolute winner and a great guy to work with.”
General manager Richard Plugge called the team’s UCI top-ranking “a wonderful milestone.”
“We set the bar high again for the new season, but of course we enjoy every victory. We have been pursuing this path since 2015 and we would very much like to continue on it. We have more dreams that we want to realize.”
Plugge was also quick to point out that the team’s season did not only come up roses. And there were setbacks, most notably in the horrific crash of Fabio Jakobsen caused by their star sprinter Dylan Groenewegen in the opening stage of the Tour of Poland in early August. The previous year Groenewegen was the sport’s winningest cyclist with 15 victories. But now he is sitting on the sidelines as he awaits the verdict for the length of his suspension.
But mostly, with a complicated season finally over, the riders and staff simply want to savor a special moment at the top of the sport.
“I think we just need to enjoy this special time,” Bennett added. “I don’t know that you really realize how special it was until you look back and say, ‘That was a purple patch for us.’ And now if we can keep the band together, then we will keep going well.”
Plugge, while obviously elated with his team’s performance, added that the biggest winner of the 2020 season was perhaps the sport of cycling itself. “Despite the global corona crisis, we were able to compete in many races. This is a victory for cycling in general.”