‘The past few months have felt like playing ProCyclingManager’: TDT-Unibet aim for 2026 Tour de France

Team co-founder Bas Tietema speaks with GCN about their journey to date, reflections on 2023 and heady ambitions for 2024 and beyond

Clock19:00, Monday 20th November 2023
TDT-Unibet was not even a pipe dream for Bas Tietema when he set up the Tour de Tietema YouTube channel in 2019

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

TDT-Unibet was not even a pipe dream for Bas Tietema when he set up the Tour de Tietema YouTube channel in 2019

Less than a year old, TDT-Unibet are a team unlike any other. Their roots come from the Tour de Tietema YouTube channel and their ambitions lie one day in the Tour de France, but along the way, they have trodden a never-before-walked path that has seen them grow from a gang of three to a company of over 40 employees.

For those who haven’t had their attention caught by the fluorescent bikes, viral social media posts and passionate supporters that embody the Dutch outfit, TDT-Unibet are a cycling team coming towards the end of their first year of racing. The team was set up by the three men behind the Tour de Tietema YouTube channel, namely Bas Tietema, Josse Wester and Devin van der Wiel.

Tour de Tietema has supported Wester in the past as he went from novice cyclist to amateur racer at the Dutch club level, but 2023 saw the team competing as a UCI Continental outfit with the backing of gambling company Unibet.

Not content at the Continental level, TDT-Unibet will make the step up to the ProConti ranks in 2024 - just one step below the sport’s highest tier, the WorldTour. This has meant expanding their team, learning lessons from less than 12 months of racing and setting lofty ambitions for 2024 and beyond - in an experience likened to “playing ProCyclingManager in real life” by team co-founder and boss, Bas Tietema.

The Dutchman has recently announced his own retirement from cycling but spent almost an hour speaking exclusively with GCN over video call about his enthusiasm for taking TDT-Unibet from strength to strength.

“It can be pretty cool that I finish 60th in a Pro race or whatever, but I want the whole project to succeed and that is my personal goal. I get so much joy and excitement from doing that, which made my retirement decision quite easy. It is my own team, so every race feels like I am racing for myself," said Tietema, who passed his UCI sports director exam ahead of the new season.

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TDT-Unibet as a team apart in professional cycling

The Tour de Tietema YouTube channel came about as a passion project from Tietema, Wester and Van der Wiel in the summer of 2019, who had the shared ambition to travel to the Tour de France and document their experience through a series of challenges along the way. Videos such as handing out Coca-Cola cans to the peloton as they rode along, delivering pizzas to the riders after stage 21 on the Champs-Élysées and even riding a city bike up Mont Ventoux soon followed.

Given their roots as a media company, their methods remain atypical compared to the majority in cycling. Their social media presence is large, their travails are captured in the form of mini-series on the YouTube channel, and their debut season in the Continental ranks has been captured by Van der Wiel for a feature-length film that will be premiered on December 4 at the AFAS Circustheater in The Hague.

“Everything we do is pretty unusual apparently… but for us, it is usual! And it has to be usual, in my opinion,” said Tietema. “If you look at Arsenal or other football clubs, Formula 1 etc, you need to have a proper media strategy. We don’t see ourselves as quirky or unusual necessarily, this should be the standard for all teams, but it is unusual that it is not.”

It is not just off the bike that TDT-Unibet have been strong in their first year of competition. The team has already team picked up their first victory at the ZLM Tour in June, with Yentl Vandevelde winning stage 1. Tietema reflected on the watershed moment with pride but admitted that the preparations for 2024 often take priority over toasting each big result for the side.

“It was pretty unreal, but actually, milestones for us are not mostly results-related, because that is something we do not always have in hand,” he said. “In these moments, I am pretty introverted because I am always working on things that are happening in the future. Often, when the team wins or picks up good results, I am already focused on the next thing.”

Speaking shortly after the end of their first season, however, Tietema did allow himself to reflect on the achievements of TDT-Unibet, which don’t just focus on their three victories in 2023, but on their consistency and rider development.

‘The Tour of Britain was the perfect example of things coming together’

The year may have only yielded three victories for TDT-Unibet, but each day has been a learning experience.

“It has been a rollercoaster!” reflected Tietema. “We have had really big highs like the victory in the ZLM Tour, we have had really big lows like the Olympia’s Tour, where nobody from our team even finished the race and the series was called ‘Going for Yellow!’

“Of course, to win a ProRace as a Continental team is a big thing.​​ This season it became almost normal that we finished in the top 10 at every UCI 1.1 race, and I think that is the biggest achievement for us throughout the year, from aiming at finishing top 10 to needing to finish in the top 5 to be deemed a good race.”

In many ways, September’s Tour of Britain encapsulated everything that TDT-Unibet had been working towards from the moment the plans for the team were set in place. Throughout the eight days of racing, the team finished inside the top 10 with Davide Bomboi on the first five stages, placed Abram Stockman inside the breakaway on all but two stages, and created a plethora of engaging social media content that provided light-hearted relief in a race accused by many of being somewhat boring.

“I think that we were doing really well compared to other Conti, ProConti and even some WorldTour teams. I think that the Tour of Britain this year was the perfect example of where things were coming together,” said Tietema, with the progression of Bomboi being particularly pleasing for the team.

“I still remember last year when I sat down with him in October and he was doubting if he wanted to continue as a rider or start his studies. From there on, he transformed during the season. Of course, he had to develop on a physical level, but you see the confidence that he gets throughout this season from being in a winning team - even if we lose sometimes.”

The Belgian sprinter is still only 23 years of age, but his progression in 2023 saw him end the season with a tremendous third-place finish at Elfstedenrace, behind only WorldTour dynamites Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma).

His development on the team highlights the possibilities for young riders under the tutelage of Tietema’s coaching setup. Growing from a squad of 13 in 2023 to one of 20 in 2024, recruitment has been vital for the team boss over the last few months, and in particular, internationalising his squad ahead of the step up to ProConti level.

TDT-Unibet prioritise talent over reputation

In 2023, TDT-Unibet only had two riders from non-Benelux countries - Harry Tanfield of the United Kingdom and Tomáš Kopecký​​ of the Czech Republic. For 2024, this number will grow to 11. Tanfield and ZLM Tour stage winner Vandevelde will be leaving in the winter, as will others, but in their place, TDT-Unibet have used a unique approach to scouting in order to source reinforcements.

“We don’t have the WorldTour budget and because we also have to decide how to split our money between the sporting and the media side, this has implications for how much we can spend on riders’ salaries or other stuff. We need to be creative and use our knowledge to get the best riders onboard,” admitted Tietema.

“It felt like playing ProCyclingManager in real life over the past couple of months. We were in a little scouting group where I was involved, Julia [Soek] as general manager and Aurélien [a statistician on X (formerly Twitter) going by the handle @LPDouces].

“From April, we were looking forward to selecting the best riders as possible for our 2024 campaign and we wanted to have Continental riders that were the best climbers at that level, the best Classics riders, and we wanted to put them together with the ideology that they all wanted to get the best out of themselves, instead of having ProConti or WorldTour riders who feel like they are stepping down.”

Read more: 'There are no words for it' - Charlie Paige bags dream ticket to pro ranks with TDT-Unibet

Prioritising talent over reputation may allow TDT-Unibet to get more bang for their buck, and Tietema explains the ability to do so is in part down to their strong media grounding, which affords them plenty of sponsor visibility without signing a supposed star rider.

“That’s the benefit of our media presence. Normally a ProTeam will mostly need some big riders because that is their publicity, that is their media value that they can sell to sponsors. We have a media presence that can value riders even if they are still unknown. We can make that with our fanbase and with our creativity with the YouTube channel. That is way cheaper than giving, for example, Chris Froome €5 million for nothing.”

‘The 2026 Tour de France is the ultimate goal’ but progress must be sustainable

Now well into their winter team camps and preparations, TDT-Unibet are firmly looking towards their goals for 2024 and beyond, which Tietema hopes will eventually end with an invite to the Tour de France.

As they pitch themselves to organisers and racers, though, Tietema is conscious that the team should take gradual steps, not just leap at every possible opportunity.

“There is only one time that we can do the Tour de France for the first time, and there is only one moment where we can do a Monument for the first time, so what we want to do is make every year a new step and a new milestone on our journey.

“When we possibly get an invite to a Monument next year, we might have to say ‘no, next year we are going to do our first WorldTour races,’ perhaps an Amstel Gold or an Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and then in 2025, that will be the first Monument or first Grand Tour. Then in 2026, possibly our first Tour de France. This way, we are making episodes of our journey instead of being too greedy and wanting everything already in the first year.”

It is no surprise that a team originating from a YouTube channel are tied so strongly to the idea of a narrative journey, though Tietema makes no illusions of where he wants that journey to go.

“To go to the Tour de France in 2026 - that’s the ultimate goal,” he concluded. “We want to do that with the most people from the start to the very end, I want to keep people with us on the road because that is the identity and that is how you take people on the journey with you.”

Although Amstel Gold, Monuments and the Tour de France may be on the horizon for Tietema’s squad, first up is their big screen premiere in The Hague in a little under two weeks. Their journey to the ProConti ranks has been nothing short of entertaining, but it remains to be seen how the sequel will stack up.

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