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Our next cycle of dominance: Reflecting on Jumbo-Visma at Paris-Nice

Robyn Davidson
16 Mar 2022

The black and yellow squad remain the team to beat after a successful week at Paris-Nice

'The team was super strong again. Wout [van Aert] is half human, half motor. He can do everything. It’s crazy. A beautiful week is behind us.

'Each and everyone did their piece – the staff, the coaches, everyone – [towards] the overall result that we were working on the whole week.' – Primož Roglič.

The irony of cycling being caught in a constant cycle is not lost on me. And in this case the cycle is one of dominance.

It would be remiss not to reflect upon other episodes of dominance through cycling’s history when writing this. We have seen both the good and bad, fair and farcical, innocent and iniquitous.

As someone firmly in the camp of innocent until proven guilty, I try to observe dominance in cycling first and foremost with an appreciation of the action unfolding in front of me, even if it is with a pinch of salt.

These cycles of dominance start when the stranglehold held by a previous team begins to falter, such as Team Sky/Ineos when it came to so many Grand Tours in the 2010s.

At that point a new challenger arises, such as we have seen in recent years in the form of Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar and their Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates teams.

At first they inject a surge of excitement into everyday racing, providing something that had long gone unfelt and reminding us of the beauty of this sport.

The problem is, the longer this goes on, the more the new challenger’s spark turns into one of expectation. We now expect Jumbo-Visma to turn up and win races, just as we expected Team Sky to win the Tour de France with Chris Froome.

So it was at this year’s Paris-Nice, where Jumbo-Visma duly delivered on those expectations and then some. 

Photo credit: Jumbo-Visma via Twitter

In fairness there was plenty of panache to go with their power, particularly on the opening stage when they took a remarkable 1-2-3.

Christophe Laporte turned up the pace with 6km remaining. Van Aert unsurprisingly latched onto his wheel, and Roglič followed.

The trio separated from the peloton like a train leaving the station, a well-oiled machine working in perfect symphony to keep their fellow competitors at bay.

By the time they reached the finish the scene was a joyous one, with pats on the back to congratulate one another on a job well done in gaining half a minute on general classification. They crossed the line nearly side by side, Laporte taking the day’s honours for his maiden victory with the team.

It underlined the cohesive forces at play within the Jumbo-Visma squad. Post-stage they were a media dream, headline-worthy quotes permeating websites and social media accounts.

But that was just the start. On the second day, a sprinter’s affair into Orléans, Jumbo-Visma made their presence felt once again. Their versability is in part down to utility man Van Aert, who is equally happy flexing his muscles on sprint, mountain and time-trial stages.

This time the Belgian national champion finished second, as Laporte came third. Even stage winner Fabio Jakobsen remarked at their capabilities, labelling them as some of the strongest competitors.

So it came as little surprise to see Van Aert blitz the time-trial on stage four as Jumbo-Visma cemented their status as the strongest team in the peloton with another 1-2-3 finish.

Photo credit: A.S.O. / Alex Broadway

First it was Laporte, Van Aert and Roglič. Now it was Van Aert, Roglič and Rohan Dennis, all finishing the 13km course within six seconds of one another. No other team had multiple riders in the top ten on the day.

Unsurprisingly, the general classification at this point was a Jumbo-Visma 1-2-3 too, Van Aert now leading Roglič, with former race leader Laporte down to third.

Jumbo-Visma were content to stay relatively quiet for Stages 5 and 6, Roglič taking over in yellow as Van Aert and Laporte both fell down the standings, Van Aert in particular no doubt remembering that overexertion this time last year at Tirreno-Adriatico ended up negatively impacting his Classics season.

On Stage 6, a last-ditch breakaway from Mathieu Burgaudeau (Team TotalEnergies) looked doomed to fail, but the Frenchman somehow evaded the impending clutches of a peloton ready to break his heart to take a heroic home win.

One more metre and he would have been reabsorbed into the Laporte-led mass. Instead, the 23-year-old collapsed after the line, both man and bike lying sidewards on the tarmac after a draining day in the saddle.

Roglič, leading Simon Yates by 39 seconds, showed no signs of stress on the penultimate day – the Queen stage of the race, from Nice to Col de Turini.

He accelerated in calm fashion to form the contesting break, simply turning the pedals faster than anyone else without rising from his saddle – no swinging or swaying here.

It was mano a mano as they approached the Category 1 summit finish – Roglič, Yates, Nairo Quintana and Dani Martínez spread across the road in a four-man horizontal line before Roglič accelerated away again to claim the stage victory and some bonus seconds.

Roglič extended his lead over Yates in the yellow jersey to 47 seconds. But...

We had been here before. We all remember the footage of Roglič on the final stage of last year’s Paris-Nice, also in yellow but with shorts ripped and red skin exposed, being escorted back into the bunch by his teammates after a crash.

Onwards he had cycled. Downwards he fell again. Off the road he almost went with 5km of the race left.

Slovenia’s star battled on, doing everything in his power to cross the finish line and honour the jersey despite knowing it was no longer his, shockingly tumbling out of the top ten by the day’s end.

It made for uncomfortable and sombre viewing, but such is the nature of cycling – it giveth and it can taketh away in a heartbeat.

A year down the line, Roglič seemed well prepared to answer questions he must have known were coming ahead of the final stage in 2022.

‘We have a lot of experience from last year. Tomorrow for sure will be the decisive one, huh?

‘Today I had quite a lot of memories on that road coming up towards the last climb. I remember it still.

‘This time it was a lot nicer. Hopefully we also finish the final stage in a nicer way.’

The following day, Van Aert remained as the sole teammate alongside Roglič across three Category 2 climbs. The loyal lieutenant then shepherded the leading group up the Cat 1 Côte de Peille, with only the dominant obstacle of the iconic Col d’Èze to come.

At the sprint in La Turbie, Yates gained three bonus seconds, Martínez two and Van Aert one. None for Roglič.

On the Col d’Èze, Yates broke away 4km from the summit and with 20km of the stage, and the race, remaining. One bike length. Two bike lengths. Soon he had created a sizeable gap.

Van Aert started drifting backwards, taking the climb at his own pace. Yates’ advantage grew. Were those few bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint going to make all the difference?

Photo credit: Jumbo Visma via Twitter

No, because this is Jumbo-Visma. If you searched the definition of ‘teammate’ in the dictionary, there would be no words. Only a picture of Van Aert underneath.

He managed to make it back to Roglič and Quintana, and the Colombian was quickly dropped. It was to be the two Jumbo-Visma riders against the lone BikeExchange-Jayco figure up ahead, obscured from their field of vision by his half-minute advantage.

Once over the top of the climb, Van Aert shredded Yates’ gap on the descent. The yellow jersey had been within tantalising reach of the Brit’s grasp, but had been snatched back, WVA undoubtably the day’s MVP.

And finally. Job done.

The celebrations waited as the exhausted duo fought to find the energy needed to even raise their arms in joy.

Rogliç climbed off his bike, downed his drink, and stared straight ahead. No more final-day tragedies. The Paris-Nice yellow jersey was his.

‘It’s never easy. A bit of drama on the last day, but a lot happier than last year,’ Roglič said, a laugh escaping his mouth.

And so the cycle of dominance continues.

This cycle of dominance clearly belongs to exceptional Slovenians Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar (lest we forget the half-human, half-motor in Belgian Wout van Aert too. Roglič certainly hasn’t). 

As for teams? More than ever after this year’s Paris-Nice, it’s clear Jumbo-Visma remain the force to beat.

Primary image photo credit: Jumbo-Visma via Twitter

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