1.3.2021 door Katy Madgwick, Katy's opinions
To say the men’s pro cycling season in 2021 has started with a bang would be an understatement. With an early spate of covid-related cancellations and postponements ransacking the schedule, there was a flurry of late entries to some of the smaller early-season races, affording fans such rare sights as Deceuninck-Quickstep ripping up the rulebook in Provence, and the INEOS train dominating in the Maritime Alpes, weeks before the start of the season ‘proper’.
The team to watch in 2020, Team Jumbo Visma may have seemed unusually quiet by comparison. Electing to stick to their planned schedule, their absence in the early races was noticeable only in that it denied fans the chance to get a sense of their early season form, or reassure ourselves that our favourites were in good shape. But with big hopes for the season ahead, the directors at Jumbo Visma weren’t about to let a few ripples in the pond get in the way of their structured approach.
Neutrals may have questioned this perceived reticence, as the other big hitters got stuck in and tested their legs. Following the loss of Tom Dumoulin for personal reasons, and an injury sustained by Mike Teunissen during a crash in training – not to mention Dylan Groenewegen’s ongoing ban – the squad was looking decidedly thin on the ground. However, by sticking to their original plan, not over-committing an already stretched squad, and bringing on new talent from the development squad, such as Olav Kooij, sooner than planned, the team leadership sought to consolidate the team and not rush into the season on the back foot.
So, with the majority of the World Tour teams having made their debuts in Europe in previous weeks, the desert backdrop of the UAE Tour would be the first team outing for the yellow and black of the 2021 road season. Not the first sighting, by any means, given the exploits of the antipodean contingent: George Bennett and Academy rider Finn Fisher Black scooped the lion’s share of the silverware in the New Zealand National Championships, with Bennett winning the road race and missing out on top spot in the time trial by just 0.7 seconds, and Fisher Black helping his teammate to get back in touch after a disastrous start in the road race, the day after winning the U23 time trial and posting the best time of the day.
Chris Harper, too, gave a good account of himself in the Australian nationals, placing fourth in the time trial and tenth in the road race, and it was to him Jumbo Visma fans looked on day one of the UAE Tour, as with riding in his legs, he was the safest bet for GC in the desert.
Day one saw aggressive riding from the off, with Sepp Kuss distanced in the crosswinds and whatever GC hopes he may have harboured effectively ended as he missed the cut and was unable to catch the leading echelons. Harper was in the mix however, along with sprinter David Dekker, making his debut for the team. The stage ended with an impressive second place for Dekker behind cyclocross World Champion Mathieu van der Poel, and in the following day’s time trial, Dekker briefly wore the red jersey, following Alpecin Fenix’s early exit due to a positive covid case within the team.
Day three was one for the climbers, and let’s face it, we were all thinking the same thing: let’s go Sepp Kuss. Sure enough, he was there when the GC frontrunners broke away from the peloton on the slopes of Jebel Hafeet, riding with Adam Yates and Tadej Pogacar as the seasoned climbers distanced the rest of the peloton. Sadly, he wasn’t able to keep pace with them and dropped back into domestique duties to help Chris Harper maintain his fourth place on GC. Early days for GC contender-in-waiting Sepp, it was great to see him testing the water; his form will peak later in the season, with his best undoubtedly yet to come.
In worse news, Jos van Emden was next on the list of Jumbo Visma casualties, not starting the third stage due to an undisclosed physical problem. We wish him well and try not to think about the ever-growing holes in the squad.
Undaunted, the rest of the team attacked stage four, keeping David Dekker in touch going into the hectic final kilometers leading to the bunch sprint finish. Dekker was able to position himself alongside the Deceuninck-QuickStep lead-out train and if it hadn’t been for being boxed in by the barriers, he might have found himself challenging eventual winner Sam Bennett even more closely. Clearly frustrated with the outcome, Dekker’s confidence was admirable for a young man performing at the top level for the first time.
Day five featured the second of two climbing segments, the longer and less steep Jebel Jais. It was up to the teams of the two GC rivals to set the pace and Ineos took up the mantel, using Brandon Rivera and Daniel Martinez to stretch out the peloton as the climb progressed. This time, four Jumbo Visma riders were present in the front group, and when Alexey Lutsenko struck out for home 3km from the line it seemed as though everyone was waiting for Adam Yates to make a move. It never came however, and as the distance ticked away Jonas Vingegaard pulled clear to chase down Lutsenko, comfortable and looking as if he had plenty left in his legs as he passed the Astana rider to snatch victory for the team. A great stage win to add to the green jersey and fourth place on the GC on the day; it was left to Jumbo Visma fans to smile wryly as the commentators fumbled over his name, remembering with fondness the formidable turns he pulled to assist Primož to victory at the Vuelta at the end of last season. We knew he had it in him, and the young Dane proved his mettle and claimed the first palmares of what will surely be a fantastic career.
Day six would end in another bunch sprint, and it was a similar story to the last: Dekker positioned himself well, with no lead-out, although by the time the bunch hit the final straight, the Jumbo Visma man was further out than he wanted to be. He sprinted to reconnect with Mørkøv and Bennett but by the time Bennett hit his full sprint, David was already in the red and wasn’t able to close the distance. He finished in fourth place, still a creditable performance in his third bunch sprint of the tour.
The final day saw both Dekker and Harper consolidate their positions to secure the green jersey, and fourth place in the General Classification, respectively. With Jonas Vingegaard’s stage win in the bag, it was a brilliant start to the season for the team, and it promises good times ahead.
With confidence brimming, there is clearly no doubt in David Dekker’s mind that he belongs at the front of the bunch with the likes of Sam Bennett and Caleb Ewan, and he proved his worth on successive stages, showing bravery and tactical nous alongside explosive power. Vingegaard is a climber with a serious engine and is likely to prove vital for the team on the Grand Tours this year.
Overall, the future is bright for the team in yellow and black, and with the seasoned contenders yet to race in 2021, other teams will surely be looking over their shoulders once again as these fearless youngsters join the old guard on the hunt for glory.