‘You need big leaders to lead you’ – Visma-Lease a Bike feeling ripple effect of bad luck at Giro d’Italia

Dutch superteam rudderless in Italy without a GC rider or sprinter, as season of misfortune continues after Van Aert and Vingegaard injuries

Clock17:20, Wednesday 15th May 2024
Visma-Lease a Bike had both Tim van Dijke (centre) and Edoardo Affini (left) in the stage 11 breakaway, but to little success

© Getty Images

Visma-Lease a Bike had both Tim van Dijke (centre) and Edoardo Affini (left) in the stage 11 breakaway, but to little success

In 2023, Visma-Lease a Bike were a team on top of the world, but four and a half months into 2024, their luck couldn’t be much worse, with many of their top riders sidelined. Most recently, they lost both sprinter Olav Kooij and fifth overall Cian Uijtdebroeks from the Giro d’Italia, taking their team in Italy down to four.

The team already started the Giro differently than they had planned, with Wout van Aert forced to miss the race he based his schedule around after crashing during the Classics. From there, their luck got worse, not better, as Robert Gesink and Christophe Laporte both crashed out in the first week.

After the rest day, stage 9 winner Olav Kooij withdrew from the race with illness, and then on stage 10, their big remaining hope Cian Uijtdebroeks, who was wearing the white jersey and sitting fifth on GC, also abandoned sick.

Read more: White jersey holder Cian Uijtdebroeks forced out of Giro d'Italia through illness

“At this point, I think we are just laughing,” a bemused Attila Valter – one of Visma’s surviving riders – told GCN shortly after the news of Uijtdebroeks’ departure became public.

“It's not possible that all this bad luck happens to us. It's devastating, but we cannot do much. I saw Cian yesterday at the finish, and the same with Olav, they were really sick.”

After bad luck has plagued Visma-Lease a Bike, not only with their Giro team but also with Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard now a doubt for July after his dramatic crash in Itzulia Basque Country, the last few days’ news has been particularly frustrating as Kooij and Uijtdebroeks had been doing well in Italy.

“They did good, especially Olav winning a stage, but also Cian improved a lot and really integrated in this team,” Valter said. “He did well in the sterrato, he did good in the TT, so I think there's a lot of good points to take away from this race, and I think in the big climbs he would have really shown how good he is.

“It's a shame but I think we are still somehow trying to be positive and enjoy it, it's just at this point so grotesque that it's funny, so we are more laughing at this point.”

Read more: Jonas Vingegaard won't ride Tour de France unless he's 100%, says Visma boss

Of course, when it comes to injury and illness, luck plays a big part in it, but the misfortune for certain riders has also sent a ripple effect through the team. With a Van Aert or Vingegaard to rally around, the rest of the team – such a super squad in 2023 – have struggled to show their other strengths.

“When the good riders are in shape and with a lot of luck, then the rest of the team follows up,” Valter explained. “So it's easy to see that the likes of me, for example, don't have such a good season so far or a good Grand Tour, because you need those big leaders to lead you, and then you can do your best to help them to win.

“We expected that we couldn't have another season like the last one, but I don't think we expected something this bad. I hope that the rest of the season will be much better, or next season will be again as good as last year.”

Eyes turn to Giro breakaways for depleted Visma-Lease a Bike team

As for what all this bad luck, and being down to just four riders, will mean for Visma-Lease a Bike at the Giro, Valter looked to breakaways as the main focus for him, Jan Tratnik, Edoardo Affini and Tim van Dijke for the remaining ten days of this race.

The team got to work in this vein quickly on stage 11, sending both Affini and Van Dijke up the road in the day’s break, a doomed move on a sprint day but a clear show of intention from the Dutch team.

Read more: Giro d’Italia: Jan Tratnik keeps Visma-Lease a Bike’s fighting spirit alive

“I already got the freedom to try for the breakaways, like you saw Jan [Tratnik] yesterday was in the breakaway, I stayed with Cian and I tried to help him until the last climb. But now we are here without a GC rider, we are here without a sprinter, so now it's all in for the breakaways,” Valter said.

The results may or may not come, but for Valter, the big thing is not just sitting back in the peloton now, but staying positive and giving the remaining team the chance to ride well in the race they prepared for.

“It's difficult to do that until a point, but there's not much we can do,” he said. “We could be sad and just be here to finish the race, but I don't think that's what we are here for, it's not what I personally trained for, so it doesn't mean that my legs aren't good.

“I feel really healthy and strong so I really want to show it, and there's still a lot of opportunities for us to race really free and go for a break when we want but also not go over our limit when we don't need to. So it's a good balance of freedom now, and we try to use it.”

For everything you need to know about the 2024 Giro d'Italia, from the history of the race to this year's route and start list, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub.

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