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The Jumbo-Visma team that showed up for the start of the spring classics campaign in Belgium didn’t disappoint.
The men in yellow blew the races apart from far out and outnumbered the competition both in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday and in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday. Dylan van Baarle put the icing on the cake at the Omloop and Tiesj Benoot captured the highest podium spot in Kuurne. It’s the first time ever a team wins these two races and get another rider on the podium in each race.
Christophe Laporte was third on Saturday and Nathan Van Hooydonck was runner-up on Sunday. Laporte also won the bunch sprint for sixth place on Sunday. And Wout van Aert still has to be added to this line-up for the monuments next month. The internal team slogan apparently is that they want to write sports history, and at this weekend in Belgium they showed they are well on their way.
Team manager Richard Plugge was beaming of joy on Saturday evening. His team was positioned outside the top-20 in the WorldTour ranking but he explained he didn’t care much about the previous races. “Les premières crêpes sont pour les enfants,” Plugge stated while standing outside the team bus in Ninove, Belgium. “Literally it means that the first pancakes are for the children. What happened before this weekend is not so important. It’s a quote from former ice skater Jan Bos.”
Director sportif Arthur van Dongen provided insight on the team philosophy after the win in Kuurne. “One of our new internal slogans is that we want to write sports history. We’re well on our way to do that. We want people to talk about this in the future. We put the bar really high all of the time. That’s not because we want to show off. Our slogan is also ‘winning together.’ It’s what we need to do with our status. We put the bar high everywhere and luckily, with the desired result,” Van Dongen said, straight after capturing a second win in two days.
Sunday’s winner Tiesj Benoot was asked at the post-race press conference in Kuurne if he felt that Jumbo-Visma was a class above the rest. “I’m not going to say that. The most important thing is that we keep questioning ourselves. The first thing that was said at the team camp in December was that the last few years we were the fox and now we were going to be the rabbit in front of the fox. We have to keep very calm and enjoy these victories. Next week is a new week and then everybody’s back at the start line with a blank sheet. We’ve got two wins after two race days with this spring classics team so that’s a great start,” Benoot said.
Benoot emphasized that the team spirit at Jumbo-Visma is part of the magic. “Last year’s team was already tight so that was a good basis with Christophe, Nathan and Wout. We were all part of the Tour team. That made us a really tight team. We’ve spent months together. The riders who join us this season like Jan [Tratnik], Dylan [Van Baarle] and Edo [Affini] are fitting in very well.
“If you’re spending weeks together on a mountain then that can turn two ways: completely wrong or it’ll strengthen the bond and that was the case. The atmosphere was good. The last two days were a testament to that team spirit, the way Christophe rode in the group behind Dylan and how Nathan and I rode the finale while the others were controlling the chase group. That’s just nice to be part of. Everybody knows that it would also happen with other names in front and for example Christophe knows that very well. His chances and races are surely going to come. It’s important to be confident that it works in both directions,” Benoot explained.
During the next spring classics, Wout van Aert joins this strong Jumbo-Visma classics team. A journalist at the post-race press conference in Kuurne asked race winner Tiesj Benoot if he felt it was easier for the team to win without Wout van Aert, he didn’t agree. “No, it’s not easier to win without Wout. He’s someone that you don’t want to have on your wheel when you’re closing down a gap. The good thing is that we have more riders than Wout who can win a race. I wouldn’t mind having him back in the spring classics team, absolutely not. It’s not offering more freedom for me either,” Benoot said.
The 27 year-old Belgian rider joined the Jumbo-Visma team last year, making the move from the DSM team. He’s a man for the classics but without a super sprint, meaning he’s not often winning races. His qualities did earn him victory in the 2018 edition of Strade Bianche. Last year he was part of the strong Jumbo-Visma team in the Tour de France and a few weeks after finishing third in the Classica San Sebastian, Spain, he collided with a car during a training camp in Livigno, Italy. Benoot sustained a major neck injury and feels that returning back to being a professional rider is a race he won.
“A few months ago, or even more recently, I had doubts on whether I would still be a cyclist,” he said. “It’s incredible to win a second race in seven months. On the bike I rarely feel pain nowadays. Off the bike I feel a little crack when I’m turning left or right. That’s probably arthrosis on the vertebra but on the bike I’m not hindered by it. Yesterday I felt that I had the legs back to win races. Also during training I felt good sensations but it’s always good to see the confirmation in the race and win the second race. For a rider who doesn’t win a lot, like me, it’s really special.”