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The seeds for Sunday’s victory at the Tour de France on the Champs Élysées were planted six years ago within the Jumbo-Visma organization.
Even before team manager Richard Plugge had even heard of Jonas Vingegaard, the Dutch team was already plotting an ambitious strategy to grow into one of the peloton’s strongest teams with the ultimate goal of winning cycling’s most prestigious stage race.
It seemed like a far reach at the time. The team was just coming out of a few lean years after longtime sponsor Rabobank pulled out of its decades-long money train, and it even raced as “Blanco” as Plugge and the team’s core searched for new sponsors and a new direction.
“Six years ago, we drew up a plan,” Plugge said Sunday. “We invested in talent development, equipment, workforce, knowledge and skills. 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.”
The team’s yellow jersey dreams were initially built around Primož Roglič, who in 2016, was an unknown factor on the WorldTour for anyone not privy to his freakish power numbers and raw potential. The team hitched its Tour hopes on the former ski jumper, and the team nearly hit cycling nirvana in 2020, only to have Tadej Pogačar emerge as a cruel dream-crusher on the slopes of Planche des Belles Filles.
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Plugge’s investment in young talent, that also included the likes of Sepp Kuss, the then-unproven cyclocross star Wout van Aert and a skinny Danish kid who used to work in a fish-packing plant, would take a few more years to take root.
Roglič, not Vingegaard, was the team’s chosen one
It was the dynamic and exciting Roglič who seemed destined to win team’s first Tour until his compatriot appeared like a meteor in the night in 2020. The team’s gut-wrenching loss to Pogačar in the Vosges Mountains stung in unimaginable ways.
No one could have imagined that a shy, reclusive natural-born-climber from a windswept port city on the edge of the North Sea in northern Denmark would be the rider who would carry the team to unthinkable heights.
When Vingegaard joined the team in 2019, he was another one of Plugge’s longterm projects, yet he paid dividends faster than anyone could have imagined. After overcoming some of the fears and stress that came with racing at the WorldTour, Vingegaard proved he deserved to be at the top with his stunning 2021 Tour debut with second.
Jumbo-Visma’s base that was built out to support Roglič was smoothly adapted to rally around Vingegaard, and the team dared and plotted again on how to overtake the seemingly unstoppable Pogačar.
“This was our dream. We worked towards this goal for years. Day in, day out, we were working with just one goal in mind. We won the Tour, the biggest cycling race in the world,” said lead sport director Merijn Zeeman. “It’s hard to comprehend at the moment. I still have to ‘recover’ from it. I have a lot of admiration for the guys who can perform under such pressure. This team deserves this most of all.”
Richard Plugge quietly built Jumbo-Visma into a giant-killer
Jumbo-Visma was so intent on becoming the top team in the peloton that it put all of its focus and obsession on dethroning Ineos Grenadiers, which ran roughshod over the peloton for nearly a decade, winning seven yellow jerseys with four different riders in eight years. And Plugge’s platoon successfully did just that in 2020 when it targeted and beat back Egan Bernal to put Roglič in yellow.
The team never saw the ominous Pogačar storm until it was too late.
Coming into this year’s Tour, that same focus and ambition was directed toward UAE Team Emirates, and the team hatched spectacular tactics to wrestle away the yellow jersey in a once-in-a-generation coup on the stage to Col du Granon.
COVID-19 and injuries depleted Pogačar’s team, but Vingegaard still had to have the legs to withstand a relentless stream of attacks in the final week.
Vingegaard’s rags-to-riches story is seemingly incredible, but it was all part of Plugge’s longterm plan to mine talent, polish the rough edges, and create the peloton’s most efficient and seamless team.
“This is what we have been striving for so long,” Plugge said. “We won the yellow and green jersey, the polka dot jersey, six stages and the prize for the most combative rider. I have once again seen how many people are involved in Team Jumbo-Visma.
“The commitment of all these people is invaluable. We are all going to enjoy these successes. Next week we will turn the switch and start preparing for the next year’s Tour de France.”
What Plugge didn’t say is that the plan he hatched six years wasn’t just to win the Tour once, but several times.
With its core unit in place, built around Vingegaard and the still invaluable presence of Roglič, the team will now be the one with the target on its back.