In 2002, Ferrari dominated Formula 1 like few others, collecting 15 victories in 17 races, world champion Michael Schumacher finishing on the podium in every race. The jumping horse was so strong that it could only defeat itself. And it did.
May 12, 2002, race for the Austrian GP. Michael Schumacher led too strongly in the championship, his closest pursuer Juan Pablo Montoya trailed by 21 points after only five races (which at the time was worth more than two victories), teammate Rubens Barrichello had only six points. The Brazilian was flying at Spielberg and was on his way to one of the few victories, and on the last lap he got a call from the pits. Team command. Just before the finish line he had to hit the brakes, Schumacher whizzed past. We know the subsequent scenes, the spectators whistled at the award ceremony, the German pushed Barrichello onto the top step, both of them just laughed bitterly. Bitter-comic scenes, Ferrari defeating himself.
I was reminded of this piece of sports history last Friday, when the Jumbo Visma team swept away their rivals at the Tourmalet, taking the first three places in both the stage and the overall order. The Dutch team is so incredibly strong that it can only beat itself, I thought at the time. A week later, this scenario came true.
Before analyzing the 78th round of Spain, I will only stop at last year’s Tour. Tadej Pogačar swept away all the competition and won the race of all races for the second time in a row. Jumbo Visma bet everything on Primož Rogličafter the premature resignation of the Zasava eagle, they had to change their tactics and goals, which they succeeded remarkably in the form of four stage victories and the second place of the young Jonas Vingegaard, who stepped onto the big stage for the first time. Leader Richard Plugge revealed the plan that over the winter they will consolidate the team, strengthen it, connect it and do everything to end Pogačar’s “era” at the Tour: “We want to return to the Tour next year with a healthy Primož and riders like Jonas and Sepp, and then we’ll see what happens.“
We know what happened a year later. Although the bees suffered another fatal fall and resignation from Roglic last year, they stopped Pogačar with unforgettable team tactics at Granon and still reached the promised land – Vingegaard finally turned Paris yellow for Jumbo.
The dominance of the Jumbo Visma team only intensified at this year’s Tour. Vingegaard was significantly stronger than last year, and the team as a whole was even (tactically) stronger, which made a few too many mass escapes in which UAE could not control and defend the leader’s shirt in which they found themselves Adam Yates.
The Bees have an ideal season in three-week races behind them, as Roglič won the Giro, which meant that they wanted to put the golden finishing touch on the Vuelta, which they wanted to ensure with a double investment (in the form of the presence of both captains, of course). It doesn’t matter who wins the Vuelta, as long as we complete the historic trio, they thought. Four days before the end of the race, we are on the verge of completing this milestone. Jumbo Visma can only defeat herself.
The key to the additional dimension of uncertainty and strangeness (not to say bizarreness) comes precisely from their incredible superiority. The starting point is a scenario similar to that of the Tour. At the very beginning, the leader’s shirt was again taken by the biggest paper rival (this time it was Soudal Quickstep and Remco Evenepoel). Jumbo used the recipe from the Tour – in the sixth stage, there was a mass escape of 40 riders, which Soudal was unable to control. He had as much as half the team in front, the trio working for him Seppa Kusswho in the end picked up the cream and unexpectedly made his way among the candidates for the final victory.
When he won the first stage two days later Primož Roglič, the order and balance of power crystallized: Kuss wore the red shirt, and the paper captains were a good two minutes behind. At the halfway point of the race, the only individual chronometer was on the schedule, which did not change the ratios, but it indicated a trend – everything looked like it would be a Roglič – Evenepoel showdown, but it was a bill without an innkeeper. Tourmalet shuffled the cards once again, the world time trial champion (and the darling of the journalists’ hearts) dropped out unexpectedly quickly, and Jumbo’s trio formed in the overall order, where Kuss had a safe lead of one and a half minutes. It looked like everyone was on the same side – defending the red shirt, otherwise I can’t imagine why Vingegaard gave up so violently in the last meters and allowed his colleagues to halve the gap.
But then Tuesday happened and the climb to Bejes, where Vingegaard unexpectedly attacked. He surprised many, including the rest of the race leaders. The Dane explained at the finish line that he did it for a friend and an injured teammate by Nathan van Hooydonck. Okay, he wanted the stage wins, but if he didn’t want to jeopardize Kuss’s victory, then he wouldn’t have kept going at full pace to the finish line and built up a minute lead. This finally broke the team spirit.
On Wednesday, it was clearly Roglič’s turn at Anglir, who also pulled a few kilometers before the finish line and got rid of the red shirt, dragging Vingegaard with him. An unusual position. “I still wish Kuss would have stayed in red,” the correct words came from Vingegaard’s mouth, but the actions did not support it, otherwise he would have stayed with Seppo Kuss, which Roglič had done with his accelerations the previous days. As if he really wanted to say: “I want Sepp to win, but not Primož, then I prefer to win.In the end, he crossed the finish line with the American Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and was the only reason the birthday boy stayed in red. Huh, what happened?
The Jumbo Visma team beat themselves, that’s what happened.
And that’s the only comparison to the aforementioned Formula One event. There it was a given victory, which highlighted everything bad in the most elite petrol sport, and in the case of cycling, it is clearly racing at full speed, but this also shows the bad sides of the sport. The biggest difference is that cycling is a team sport. These days, I’ve probably heard the phrase “gifted victory” the most. No one likes to take away victories. But what are gifted victories anyway? To be honest, most victories are given away. Imagine a classic stage that ends with a climb and the raised hands of Roglič and Pogačar, who have the most strength on the final climb. Of course, they were able to win because their teammates ran 150+ kilometers for their captains. And think of all the top sprinters who ride “easy” all day so that they can position themselves in the very finish, take advantage of the team train, and then show all their raw power in the 200 meters. Of course, cycling is a team sport. It’s about optimization.
And of course we also know more specific gifts. Just remember this year’s Giro, when Kuss limited Roglič’s loss in a difficult stage on Monte Bondone. Remember the Granon, and all the defects and problems when the assistants selflessly let their bike go. Remember the team stopwatch when the bees waited for Vingegaard. Remember last year’s Dauphinja, where Vingegaard was pulling for Roglič all the time on the final slope, and the Kisovcan then let him win. Or the gifts he received in the Jumbo Visme jersey Christophe Laporte (last year Paris−Nice; this year Gent−Wevelgem). Cycling is a team sport.
Jumbo Visma’s team is so strong that they beat themselves and that is clear regardless of who ends up wearing the red shirt in Madrid. Maybe in the end team orders will prevail, maybe in the end the feet really can decide and the one who is the strongest will celebrate, but at this moment it is clear that they are not on the same wavelength, that the same rules (or agreements) did not rule all the time. That they did not cycle in a team spirit.
The opinion of the author does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of RTV Slovenia.