Until Friday, it is safe to say that Jumbo-Visma had experienced a disappointing opening to this Giro d’Italia. It must have been unusual for a team as successful as the Dutch powerhouse to have to deal with this adversity: first Tom Dumoulin was denied victory on the stage two time trial by five seconds; then he, Tobias Foss and Sam Oomen all lost time on stage four to Mount Etna, with Dumoulin’s GC hopes all but ended that early; then Oomen was part of a freak crash post-stage five.
Quite quickly, the team realised that they would have to reorganise and reshape their entire race plan. They managed it so quickly that on the first stage they could have really won – they don’t have a sprinter at the race – they managed it. Koen Bouwman took his first Grand Tour stage win in an almost comfortable fashion, after one of the hardest days racing possible.
What impressed was not only the 28-year-old’s dogged determination and turn of speed, but his teammate Dumoulin’s selflessness in delivering him to the line in the best possible fashion. The pair fought hard to get into the break, and then had the numerical advantage, but how often have we seen this seemingly not matter in the heat of the action.
From rock bottom on top of Etna to high on top in Potenza, this was a quick turnaround for Jumbo. It wasn’t a consolation stage win at the end of the race, like Michał Kwiatkowski’s for Ineos towards the end of the 2020 Tour de France, this was a statement of intent.
Perhaps we wrote them off too early. Foss and Oomen only sit less than three minutes behind Simon Yates in the general classification, the first of the true contenders, and this is a long race. Meanwhile, Dumoulin made up so much time today that he is now under four minutes, rather than under seven minutes, behind Yates.
Even if they don’t end up doing anything on GC, their plan is clear, to make the race hard, to attack, and to attempt to win. There’s no reason why they can’t win more stages in this style.
Speaking after the stage, after his victory, Bouwman said it was “unbelievable”.
“Like my first victory, in the Dauphiné, I can’t believe it. It was such a hard day actually, and in the final we were there with four guys, with the two of us. Tom did a superb job in the last 2km. Already I was feeling myself the whole day quite good. One time on the climb I had a bit of trouble, but I came back and I was actually confident for the sprint, and I’m so happy.
“It was steeper than I thought, but when I started my sprint I had so much power left. I knew I was getting close to the victory, and after 50m I looked behind and I had the gap, perfect.
“Our GC guys lost time, especially Tom. We’re focusing now on stages with both of us, and Sam and Tobias are still trying to do GC. But yeah, now in the first attempt already having a victory, I can’t describe it in words.”
One try, one win, so therefore more attempts, more wins? Bouwman’s directeur sportif Addy Engels had to live through a lot on Friday, watching Bouwman and Dumoulin repeatedly drop off the back and then work their way back, but they managed to defeat Davide Formolo and Bauke Mollema in the end.
“It’s incredible actually,” Engels explained. “I said the day after Etna that we had to try and refocus a bit, and two days to refocus on sprint days. It was incredible. It was such a big fight to even get in the break, and then at the right moment with Tom and Koen to be in, that was really strong.
“How the final went, dropping, getting back, it was nice to watch for everyone. For us it was really exciting and a lot of suspense.”
It is not even worth your time thinking about the expletives used in the car when Bouwman lost the wheels of the leading group on one of the final climbs, but then managed to come back, and hold on. Dumoulin similarly looked out of it at times, but used his diesel power to return to the front, and then help out his teammate.
“What he showed today was incredible,” Engels said. “A really strong teammate and something to admire that he had the will to work for Koen. He was really the one saying we go for Koen. For a winner like Tom, that’s incredible. What he showed today physically was really strong of course. He must feel a bit better than a few days ago.”
Dumoulin, and Jumbo-Visma by extension, looked dejected on Etna’s summit. Now they have the belief that they can still have a role to play in this race, and there are still 14 stages to go. Watch out for the men in yellow.