Can Wout van Aert and Dylan Van Baarle coordinate co-captaincy in the classics?

'They will share leadership,' insists staff, but choosing between a new Dutch dominator and a longtime team talisman may not be so simple.

Photo: BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

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Here’s a hypothetical:

Jumbo-Visma’s longtime team talisman Wout van Aert and its newly signed cobblestone champion Dylan Van Baarle are roaring toward the velodrome at the front of Paris-Roubaix in April 2023.

Who does Jumbo-Visma give license to lead?

That’s the delicious dilemma the team might have to unpick when Van Aert and Van Baarle share leadership in marquee monuments next spring.

“We expect Dylan and Wout will share leadership, also with Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte,” team director Merijn Zeeman told VeloNews.

“I expect all four to be seen in the finals, then it’s up to us to make a strategy that will give the team the biggest chance of winning possible.”

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Jumbo-Visma planted itself into the position of classics powerhouse when it signed Roubaix champion and Tour of Flanders runner-up Van Baarle.

The cobble-crushing Dutchman adds artillery to all-terrain terror Van Aert, and brings another option to a team already brimming with potential one-day winners.

Jumbo-Visma is hoping its bounty of classics contenders can co-ordinate into a Quick-Step-style all-for-one offense against top rivals like Patrick Lefevere’s team and Ineos Grenadiers next season.

“Dylan gives us a real added weapon for the monuments. In the last hour you know he will pop up, and that’s something we can really use as a team,” Zeeman said in an off-season call. “Having him works in all ways – it makes the team, it makes Dylan, and it makes Wout stronger.”

Zeeman was reluctant to suggest who of his terrible twosome might take top status when they share a startline in spring 2023.

“They will both lead, together,” he said. “Different things will decide the strategy about who will play for the win depending on the day. We will see.”

A Dutch I.D. and a longtime team talisman

Jumbo-Visma is proactive in developing and supporting Dutch talent – like Van Baale. (Photo: Getty Images)

Van Baarle and Van Aert are two of a kind. They shared the podium at Paris-Roubaix, have both hit top-3s in Flanders, and have collected catalogs of top classics results through their similar-length careers.

Van Aert has been at the center of the Jumbo-Visma universe since his blazing rookie year with the team in 2019.

He was crucial to Jumbo-Visma winning the Tour de France this summer and collected a haul of marquee victories across monuments, grand tours stages, and cyclocross World Cups.

Van Aert brought Jumbo-Visma a steady stream of PR prestige and season-topping scores for the past four years. He’s so important to the Dutch crew that it poured bank-breaking cash and the promise of classics support into the Belgian’s contract extension in order beat back interest from Ineos Grenadiers in 2021.

Van Aert brings victories and hype to Jumbo-Visma. But there’s one thing he can’t bring – a Dutch passport.

The team hasn’t seen a world-beating home talent since Dylan Groenewegen was bossing bunch sprints and Steven Kruijswijk punched to the podium at the 2019 Tour. And with Tom Dumoulin gone, the team lost an iconic Dutch diamond at the core of its roster.

However, the Voorburg-born and Rabobank-bred Van Baarle is Dutch as windmills and stroopwafel.

“I’m really looking forward to next year. As a Dutch rider in a Dutch team, it feels like coming home,” Van Baarle said when Jumbo-Visma confirmed his contract.

“I have closely watched the team’s development over the past few years. It was on an upward trend, so I chose Team Jumbo-Visma. With Wout and riders like Tiesj and Nathan, we have a really powerful team, particularly in the classics.”

Top teams have long aligned to national roots. Belgian squads are typically stacked with Flandriens, French teams are full of tricolor I.D. cards, and so on.

Jumbo-Visma, and Rabobank before it, always emphasized its Dutch I.D. The signing of Van Baarle and GC contender Wilco Kelderman will make for marquee national names in its 2023 roster.

“These two guys bring huge value to the team, both internally and externally. We are also a team with Dutch roots. We always support and keep an eye on Dutch talent, even in the juniors,” Zeeman said.

“With those two, they make the team better but they strengthen our Dutch heart. It’s perfect.”

In Van Baarle, Jumbo-Visma sees the potential for a sponsor-pleasing Dutch monument smash. It would have a certain national sparkle that victories from Van Aert, Jonas Vingegaard or Primož Roglič could never shine up to.

The most delicious of decisions

Van Baarle and Van Aert are more similar than they may like. (Photo: Getty)

So how will the Dutchman Van Baarle and the Belgian Van Aert work together at Jumbo-Visma?

In the likely chance that the two hit the decisive final of one of spring’s biggest classics together, team brass may be hoping riders’ legs make the selection before a director needs to make the decision for them.

Even the sternest of orders and tightest of team bonds can go astray when a finishline hits the eyeline.

Van Aert’s multi-year contract extension came with the caveat of added classics support as he hunts his elusive Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix win. With the arrival of Van Baarle, he may have received better support than he bargained for.


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