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Jumbo-Visma sport director: ‘Ketones not a wonder supplement’

Grischa Niermann downplays role of controversial supplement, says it's only part of team's increasingly pinpoint approach to performance.

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Ketones aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

At least, that’s what Jumbo-Visma sport director Grischa Niermann said.

Jumbo-Visma has openly used ketones throughout its recent rise up the pro peloton but Niermann says the controversial supplement is just a small part of the team’s complex performance puzzle rather than being the miracle makeover some believe them to be.

“I think a lot of people think ketones are a wonder drug, and it makes you go faster by 20 percent. And I think that’s total bullshit,” Niermann told VeloNews.

“If you use it, you believe that it has some effect somehow, but I’m 100 percent convinced that it’s not the wonder supplement that makes you go faster by a big, big margin.”

Niermann’s non-sensing of the notion that ketones can turbo-charge a rider’s engine stands in opposition to what some believe.

Leading racers Romain Bardet and Guillaume Martin have called for a ban on the supplement, which is taken as a liquid or powder. The MPCC team-group directly opposes the use of ketones, while the UCI recently called for athletes to steer clear.

Meanwhile, the supplement remains off WADA’s banned list, and recent thinking – including a recent UCI-mandated study – suggests that the supplement has only negligible impact on performance and recovery.

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“I would say it’s a marginal gain,” Niermann said on a call this week. “I see them as a very small piece of the puzzle in our overall nutrition strategy.

“That strategy includes a lot of other things, especially our ‘food coach’ app where we really measure and calculate everything that the riders take in on a daily basis, everything they burn, and what they should eat.”

Jumbo-Visma, home of top racers Primož Roglič, Wout van Aert, Sepp Kuss, Tom Dumoulin, and many more, is one of a clutch of WorldTour teams believed to be supplementing with ketones.

Niermann said Jumbo-Visma’s use of the substance is just one of the details it has dialed-in during its recent climb to the top of the pro peloton. The Dutch crew broke ground with its use of glucose monitors, has upped its attention on tech, aerodynamics, and nutrition, and recently opened a huge new state-of-the-art service course.

“Ketones are one of the puzzle pieces in the entire recovery plan,” Niermann said. “For some, they add something for recovery, for some riders less. You have to get the whole puzzle right to create any benefit.”

‘Every little detail counts’

While the efficacy of ketones has recently been called into doubt, what is sure is that Jumbo-Visma’s commitment to ironing out every wrinkle has leveled then up with Ineos Grenadiers in the high-stakes world of grand tour racing. Roglic’s wrecking crew is now just as visible as the British supersquad through all the year’s three-weekers.

Also read: Is the sky falling in on Ineos?

Jumbo-Visma’s ascent has been so rapid that new recruit Rohan Dennis recently said he believed Ineos was “copying Jumbo with a lot of stuff” when discussing his switch to the yellow-clad collective.

“We don’t know if Rohan said that 100 percent serious or with a smile on his face,” Niermann said. “But I think when you look at the last 10-15 years, you have to give the credit to Team Sky for their approach of marginal gains, and to look into every detail. And that’s something that I would say we took over not last year but a lot of years ago.

“We also tried to look into every detail and to have the best bike and the best skinsuit and the best training and the best preparation and all that the nutrition, all the rest. And every little detail counts. And that’s something I’m convinced that we do really well.”

As far as Niermann is concerned, ketones are just another of those one-percenters – and nothing more.