Jumbo-Visma Team Talk: Lack of clear plan B as Marianne Vos’ powers wane

The Dutch team’s fortunes are currently closely intertwined with those of Vos, but that needs to change soon if they are to progress

Clock10:46, Monday 4th December 2023
Jumbo-Visma were reliant on Marianne Vos for WorldTour wins in 2023

© Sprint Cycling Agency

Jumbo-Visma were reliant on Marianne Vos for WorldTour wins in 2023

Widely regarded as the greatest of all time, Marianne Vos is the closest thing to guaranteed wins you can find in professional cycling. Prior to 2023, she’d amassed 246 career victories, so it’s not too surprising that Jumbo-Visma were reliant on the flying Dutchwoman during their first two seasons. That strategy partly paid off with a respectable return of six and nine WorldTour victories in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Thirteen of those 15 were delivered by Vos.

A rider of Vos’ quality is always going to carry a heavy burden in a team but it’s important to have contingency plans in case those wins ever dry up, a scenario that becomes increasingly likely as the Dutchwoman reaches the age where the word ‘retirement’ will start to get bandied about.

Jumbo-Visma caught a glimpse of what their post-Vos future may look like in 2023, and they won’t have been particularly confident with what they saw. Many riders would love to have matched her two WorldTour wins, but for Vos it marked a continued decline in victory output, which in turn led to the team’s worst win return in their three-year existence.

With their star rider’s powers waning, more than just being hampered by injury, the lack of a clear plan B became glaringly apparent for Jumbo-Visma, and it’s something they need to address imminently. The question is, can their existing riders and new signings make the step up in 2024, or will the team be left hoping for a Vos resurgence?

GCN’s 2023 review

There were warning signs that Jumbo-Visma weren’t quite firing on all cylinders from the beginning of the season. By May those warning signs were bordering on a crisis, with the team’s win tally still sporting a worrying zero.

Luckily for Jumbo-Visma, Vos stepped up, as she so often does, at the Vuelta Femenina with two stage wins, but not before the team opened their win account in the team time trial. Clearly on a mission to correct the season’s wandering course, Jumbo-Visma claimed the opening stage TTT in nervy style, edging Canyon-SRAM by one second.

Victories often breed confidence, which in turn leads to more wins. That old adage played out in front of our eyes over the next few stages as Vos rediscovered her potent streak to win back-to-back sprint stages. Having started the month of May winless, Jumbo-Visma amassed three quick-fire victories, and the month kept on giving as Riejanne Markus triumphed at the Navarra Women’s Elite Classic.

From a bad start, the team had seemingly found its groove, but could they maintain that momentum? The answer would be a resounding no.

Plagued by pain and a lack of power in her left leg, Vos followed May with a winless few months before cutting her season short in August for iliac artery surgery, in a bid to mend her injury woes.

It wasn’t just Vos who was struggling, though, as the whole team also remained winless throughout that time, barring Markus’ victory in the time trial at the Dutch National Championships. Another win didn’t follow until mid August when Amber Kraak stepped on to the top of the podium at La Périgord Ladies, but opportunities for further victories were quickly running out.

As it turned out, Jumbo-Visma’s winning ways at the WorldTour level were already over for the season, confined to that sole outing at the Vuelta Femenina. The season did bring some wins at lower-level races. Karlijn Swinkels delivered a flurry of late victories at the AG Tour de la Semois, winning both stages and the overall, before Noemi Rüegg became the Swiss road race champion. That did little to alter the perception that Jumbo-Visma, without Vos to call upon, appeared to be toothless.

The team could take some solace in its off-road exploits, led by cyclocross star Fem van Empel. Still only 21-years-old, the Dutchwoman already has a senior CX world title to her name. In a time when team’s are increasingly letting riders off their leashes to explore off-road avenues, it’s arguably the Jumbo-Visma’s saving grace.

But it doesn’t gloss over a road season in which the team were ultimately punished for an over-reliance on Vos, resulting in a return of only three World Tour wins, down on the nine they had in 2022.

GCN’s rating: 5/10

A downturn in results caused by an over reliance on Marianne Vos.

Ins & Outs

A little worryingly for Jumbo-Visma, they are losing many of their star riders for 2024 too. Vos will remain onboard having signed a contract extension through until the end of 2025, as will Markus, but Swinkels, Kraak and Rüegg are all departing. Only five riders took wins for the team in 2023 and, these were three of them. That's some significant winning potential out of the door.

The team will also wave goodbye to the experience of Coryn Labecki who never quite recaptured the world-beating ability she displayed earlier in her career while riding in Jumbo-Visma’s yellow kit.

Taking the youthful approach, their replacements are riders who have bags of potential but are currently short on experience. Youth has become less of a barrier in cycling, as displayed within their own ranks by Van Empel, but it’s a big ask to expect these riders to contribute in their opening season.

Lieke Nooijen and Mijntje Geurts possess the most potential, but they can claim only one pro victory between them, although they both have age on their side. Sophie von Berswordt is another new arrival with a lack of road experience, although the 27-year-old can rely on a background on the mountain bike World Cup circuit.

Margaux Vigie will also make the step up to WorldTour level with the team, having raced the last four seasons at Continental level, but she also doesn’t have any pro wins.

Where Jumbo-Visma’s wins will come in 2024

This is currently the million-dollar question for Jumbo-Visma, with one obvious answer. Even when she’s not at her peak, Vos is more than capable of pocketing WorldTour wins, as displayed in 2023. It was far from a stellar year for the Dutchwoman, but she was still the team’s shining light. If they use their prized asset wisely, targeting stage races where the best pure sprinters are absent, wins should flow.

They will also hope that other riders can step up, namely Van Empel. She will have been at the team for a year by the time 2024 starts, but the young Dutchwoman will be like a new signing if she places greater emphasis on the road, having only started six road races for her team in 2023. That will mean parking some of her off-road ambitions, specifically mountain biking throughout the summer months.

Beyond that Dutch pairing, Anna Henderson and Markus are the only riders with proven race-winning ability, although both have only displayed it sporadically throughout their careers.

Considering their transfer dealings, it appears that Jumbo-Visma are transitioning to a more youth-orientated approach, something backed up by a glance at the age of their squad members. This should mean more opportunities in the future, but could come at the cost of wins. They will need to find the right balance to make the approach a success.

Jumbo-Visma’s next breakout rider

The Dutch outfit can now call upon a squad packed with young riders, but it’s hard to look beyond Fem van Empel. With a cyclo-cross world title already to her name, applying the moniker of ‘breakout rider’ appears to be a stretch, but the 21-year-old remains unproven on the road.

There are plenty of signs that this could change in 2024, not least the ongoing 2023/2024 cyclo-cross season in which Van Empel has taken her dominance to new levels. She remains unbeaten after nine races but more pertinently, only Lucinda Brand has managed to finish within 30 seconds of her throughout those events, and that was only on one occasion. Her ability is plain to see and there’s no reason why that, with a little extra focus, can’t translate to the road.

Perhaps most exciting of all, like many of the young stars rising to the top, Van Empel has a wide range of tools to call upon. She’s displayed her sprint, vicious kick and engine in cyclo-cross, so it will be interesting to see which route her road career takes.

How would you rate Jumbo-Visma's season and do you agree that they were over-reliant on Marianne Vos? Let us know in the comments.

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