Analysing the Visma-Lease a Bike Giro d’Italia team

Wout van Aert, Cian Uijtdebroeks and Olav Kooij headline Dutch squad’s eight-man line-up, as team targets stage wins and GC

Clock17:24, Tuesday 30th January 2024

© Sprint Cycling Agency (left/right), Instagram: cianuijtdebroeks (centre)

Wout van Aert, Cian Uijtdebroeks and Olav Kooij will lead the line for Visma-Lease a Bike in Italy

Two years since he last lined up at the Giro d’Italia’s Grande Partenza in his home country of Hungary, the 25-year-old Attila Valter will complete Visma-Lease a Bike’s eight-man squad for the race in May.

This news was confirmed to WielerFlits on Tuesday morning, as the Dutch team’s planned squad was settled, with Norway’s Johannes Staune-Mittet missing out on the final spot up for grabs to support team leaders Wout van Aert, Cian Uijtdebroeks and Olav Kooij. This makes Visma-Lease a Bike one of the first teams to have their full line-up in the public domain.

Over the winter, Jay Vine and Tadej Pogačar confirmed their participation at the Giro d’Italia, whilst we analysed Ineos Grenadiers’ current long list last week, which includes the like of Thymen Arensman and former Visma rider Tobias Foss in support of Geraint Thomas.

Read more: Analysing the Ineos Grenadiers Giro d'Italia long list

Pogačar and Thomas are both gunning to stand on the top step of the podium come the end of the race in Rome, but Visma-Lease a Bike’s expectations are perhaps less ambitious. They lost Primož Roglič to Bora-Hansgrohe over the winter, Jonas Vingegaard is predictably focused solely on the Tour de France and Vuelta a España winner Sepp Kuss confirmed to GCN last October that he would not be racing the Giro this season.

In turn, they shouldn’t be expected to win a fourth Grand Tour in succession, but that does not mean Visma-Lease a Bike will be any less a dangerous prospect to every other team in the peloton. With Van Aert, Uijtdebroeks and Kooij all making their Giro debuts, they have options to win almost every stage at this year’s race. We’ve cast our eyes over their chances and the strength of the team selected to support the trio.

Wout van Aert

Age: 29

Team Role: Team leader/all-rounder

Giro d’Italia pedigree: Making his debut

Analysis: When Wout van Aert first confirmed his attendance at the Giro d’Italia in an interview out in Colombia, the rumour mill went into overdrive with speculation that the Belgian might target the general classification at a Grand Tour for the first time. However, Van Aert quickly put paid to these ideas, with the 29-year-old not sold on changing his body weight and sacrificing his chances in the Classics for a crack at the Giro’s top five.

Read more: Wout van Aert rules out GC bid at Giro d'Italia, refusing to 'sacrifice' the Classics

The primary focus for Van Aert, then, will be on targeting stage victories, which he should be able to choose with a free hand. Admittedly, it is likely that Van Aert will have a key role in piloting Olav Kooij in the sprint stages - just as he did during the Tour of Britain - but should the youngster falter, the Belgian is more than quick enough to pursue his own result.

Elsewhere, Van Aert will fancy his chances of rivalling Ineos Grenadiers' Filippo Ganna in the two individual time trials, which are both flat and long, promising an entertaining showdown between the pair. With his sprinting pedigree, Van Aert can be in contention on the days that fall to a reduced bunch sprint, and with his climbing pedigree, Van Aert will be a dangerous man in any breakaway.

That is not to mention the mini-versions of Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche which colour the race’s opening week and will suit the former winner of both Classics.

Cian Uijtdebroeks

Age: 20

Team Role: Team leader/climber

Giro d’Italia pedigree: Making his debut

Analysis: With the Bora-Hansgrohe break-up behind him, Cian Uijtdebroeks is looking forward to his first race in Visma-Lease a Bike colours at O Gran Camiño towards the end of February. From there, he will begin his preparations for a Giro d’Italia debut, which will see him make only his second Grand Tour appearance.

Expectations have been kept sensibly low on the 20-year-old, with Visma-Lease a Bike seemingly handing the Belgian a free role to simultaneously chase stage wins and a high GC placing. In the absence of the likes of Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) and Roglič, however, the third spot on the podium behind Thomas and Pogačar looks rather wide open.

Read more: Cian Uijtdebroeks confirms he will ride for GC at the Giro d’Italia

On Grand Tour debut at last year’s Vuelta a España, Uijtdebroeks finished a commendable eighth place, and as things stand, none of the riders who finished above him look set to start the Giro d’Italia. This is not to say he is a shoo-in for a podium berth - the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) and Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek) will all be threats - but the Belgian has all the attributes for a great race.

Olav Kooij

Age: 22

Team Role: Sprinter

Giro d’Italia pedigree: Making his debut

Analysis: A Grand Tour debut has felt like a long time coming for young Dutch sprinter, Olav Kooij. The 22-year-old has been winning at a canter in many races since he got the ball rolling at the end of the 2021 campaign. Over the last two seasons, Kooij has mopped up 25 victories, including five at WorldTour level.

Alongside Lotto Dstny’s Arnaud De Lie, the man from Numansdorp is the most exciting young sprinter in the men’s peloton, and Visma-Lease a Bike have decided the time is finally right to send Kooij as their primary sprinter for the Giro d’Italia. There are five clear-cut chances for sprinters to contest for the win in this year’s race, including the prestigious final stage showdown in Rome, won by Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) last year.

Read more: Giro d’Italia 2024 route revealed

We can expect to see Van Aert serve as Kooij’s pilot fish in these finales, which is a partnership that delivered five stage wins on the bounce in last year’s Tour of Britain - the first four of which came from Kooij.

Wilco Kelderman

Age: 32

Team Role: Super domestique

Giro d’Italia pedigree: Four starts, seventh overall in 2014 and third place in 2020

Analysis: Ten years Kooij’s senior, fellow Dutchman Wilco Kelderman will ride his third Grand Tour in 18 months at the Giro d’Italia. Entrusted to be by the side of Vingegaard and Kuss at last year’s Tour de France and Vuelta a España, Kelderman will once more be a valuable lieutenant in the mountains for his teammates.

Read more: Was Jumbo-Visma's Vuelta a España team better than Team Sky at their best?

In May, it will be three and a half years since Kelderman rode to third place at the Covid-delayed 2020 edition of the Giro d’Italia, in which the former Team Sunweb rider wore the pink jersey for two days in the final week. At one point, Kelderman looked set to win the race, before Ineos launched an almighty ambush on the Passo dello Stelvio.

Now 32 years of age, Kelderman may ride as a backup GC leader for a while - after all, he finished 18th in last year’s Tour - but we can expect the Dutchman to fall into a domestique de luxe role for Uijtdebroeks as the race draws on.

Robert Gesink

Age: 37

Team Role: Climbing domestique

Giro d’Italia pedigree: Two starts, second place on stage 20 in 2018

Analysis: Another experienced Dutchman supporting the trio of leaders will be 37-year-old Robert Gesink, who will be making his penultimate Grand Tour appearance before he retires at the end of the season. This will be his 23rd Grand Tour, but only his third outing at the Giro.

Read more: Robert Gesink: The fan in me wants Primož Roglič to win the Tour de France

Six years ago, Gesink was capable of finishing runner-up on the final mountain stage, but these days the lanky rider appears solely in support of his teammates. He will be invaluable in the mountains for young Uijtdebroeks.

Attila Valter

Age: 25

Team Role: Climbing domestique

Giro d’Italia pedigree: Three starts, 14th overall in 2021 and three days in the pink jersey

Analysis: Looking every bit like the natural long-term successor to Robert Gesink in the Visma-Lease a Bike ranks is Attila Valter, who is a tall, rangy climber who is capable of chasing his own result from time to time, but is best served as a loyal and unwavering teammate to his leaders in the mountains.

Read more: Giro d'Italia 2024: Five key stages that will decide the winner

Three years on from his spell in the pink jersey at the 2021 Giro d’Italia, Valter’s exemplary performances in last year’s Vuelta a España were enough to seal him the final slot in Visma-Lease a Bike’s provisional squad for this year’s race. He will form Uijtdebroeks’ mountain train alongside Gesink and Kelderman, offering Van Aert the freedom to pick and choose his targets.

Jan Tratnik

Age: 33

Team Role: Domestique

Giro d’Italia pedigree: Four starts, stage winner in 2020

Analysis: With Gesink, Kelderman and Valter most at home in the mountains, there will be a heavy reliance on Jan Tratnik and Edoardo Affini to pull the team along the flatlands between the peaks. A capable climber in his own right, Tratnik will be more than comfortable with his role, having quickly established himself as an important teammate with Visma last season.

Read more: Polti Kometa, Tudor Pro Cycling and Bardiani receive Giro d'Italia wildcards

A compact powerhouse who will have the engine to spearhead Visma-Lease a Bike’s armada for kilometres on end, Tratnik may also come into his own should the likes of Uijtdebroeks and Van Aert flatter to deceive.

Edoardo Affini

Age: 27

Team Role: Domestique/TT specialist

Giro d’Italia pedigree: Four starts, runner-up in stages in 2021 and 2022

Analysis: Italy’s Edoardo Affini is a man of many talents. He has finished as a stage runner-up at the Giro d’Italia in a sprint stage, a time trial and from a breakaway, highlighting his versatility as a rider.

Read more: Top 10 GC riders we want to see at the 2024 Giro d’Italia

He has ridden the Giro in all of his three seasons with Visma to date and will continue to be an important member of their squad this year. The 27-year-old will swap turns with Tratnik on the flatlands, but will also hope to secure a good finish in each of the individual time trials, which Affini has always found to his liking.

For all the important information about the 2024 Giro d'Italia, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub.

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