Let’s scroll back the best part of three weeks to the Critérium du Dauphiné, to the end of the third stage up to Saint-Martin-de-Belleville. UAE’s Davide Formolo had hung on to win after being in the break for a good part of the stage, while Primož Roglič kept the yellow jersey after leading into the main contenders 33 seconds behind the Italian.
After Wout van Aert’s victory on stage one and Roglič’s show of force on the Col de Porte on day two, Jumbo-Visma had pulled hard on the climb up to Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, apparently attempting to reel in Formolo, but ultimately settled for second place on the day, Roglič underlining his superiority over his GC rivals in the process.
It had been another good day for the Dutch team, but in the mixed zone/interview area beyond the finish line, two members of its leadership trident weren’t happy. Steven Kruiswijk had said that the team had tried to chase down Formolo and, as a consequence, were in danger of being seen as greedy, which could lead to them alienating rival teams in the peloton.
Tom Dumoulin also expressed his concern with the team’s strategic approach. “This tactic of being on the front and each of us setting the pace one after another is fine at this race where all we’re focused on is Primož taking victory, but it won’t work at the Tour where everyone else’s level will be higher. We’ll need a different tactical plan there,” said the Dutchman.
Dumoulin felt that by employing the “train” or “steamroller” tactic on decisive climbs, Jumbo-Visma weren’t making best use of his ability and that the same applied to Kruiswijk. He suggested that the team would need to take better advantage of the strengths of its three leaders, to use them as a veritable trident rather than using up two of them in to support the third. Dumoulin’s unease looked even more valid after Roglič crashed heavily the next day and abandoned the race that night. Jumbo finished the Dauphiné, a race they’d dominated from start to finish, without a rider on the podium.
Five stages into the Tour, it’s already clear that Jumbo-Visma have changed tack. While they’ve now won stages on consecutive days, they’ve not yet committed the whole team fully behind one leader. In fact, they’ve not committed the whole team at all in the same way we saw at the Dauphiné.
When the Tour headed into the mountains in Nice’s hinterland on stage two, Jumbo rouleurs Tony Martin and Amund Jansen played a prominent role in keeping the break within range. Coming back into Nice for the shorter, but more critical ascents of the Col d’Èze and Col des Quatre Chemins, all-round phenomenon Wout van Aert and climbers Sepp Kuss and George Bennett kept Roglič and Dumoulin well placed, but didn’t look to apply pressure in the lead group containing the yellow jersey favourites.
Jumbo remained in defensive mode on stage three into Sisteron, keeping their two leaders well positioned into the final three kilometres. In addition, van Aert opted not to take his chances in a sprint that he described as “frightening”.
On stage four, though, Jumbo gave a clear demonstration of how they will race. The climb to Orcières-Merlette was neither long nor particularly tough. Bennett and veteran climber Robert Gesink protected the team’s leaders going onto it, but neither made a concerted effort on the front of the bunch. That was left to the awesome van Aert, who set an unrelentingly fast tempo from 4km out, the group on his tail reduced from 60 riders to less than three dozen by the time he peeled aside with less than 2km to go.
At this point, Ineos briefly took the lead, only to see Kuss breeze past them and reassert Jumbo’s dominance. When, with 500 metres, Guillaume Martin launched an audacious attack, Roglič himself chased the Frenchman down and sped off to claim the stage, Dumoulin among the group that came in just behind the Slovene.
Rather than opting for the more processional tactic they’d employed so effectively in the Dauphiné, Jumbo were more selective. Kuss, Bennett and Gesink were used more sparingly, partly because van Aert’s pull was so astoundingly long and also because Orcières-Merlette was a comparatively straightforward mountain test. As for Dumoulin, his improving form enabled him to follow the other GC favourites.
It’s worth noting, too, that van Aert was only given the go-ahead to contest the bunch sprint into Privas today because the stage had been run at an easy pace and both Roglič and Dumoulin were well protected, the pair both in the top six on GC and within 13 seconds of the lead.
Stage six through the Cévennes to Mont Aigoual should provide an even better insight into Jumbo’s tactical shift since the Dauphiné. Their climbing domestiques have been used relatively sparingly up to now, and I’d expect to see Gesink, Kuss and Bennett play more significant roles on the super steep ramps of the Col de la Lusette, the penultimate climb of the day and the toughest of the race so far. I’d also expect van Aert be given a “day off”, a tactic Sky/Ineos have frequently employed in the past, although the Belgian looks capable of taking any amount of work on board at the moment.
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