Jumbo played with fire during the Vuelta and when it seemed that the fire was inevitable, they saved the situation with a popularity contest to decide who of the three team leaders, the cuddly Sepp Kuss, the now friendly Primoz Roglic and the stern Jonas Vingegaard, He would be the winner of the Vuelta. Kuss won, having won over the fans in the ditches by shouting kiss Kiss Kiss, and on the networks, for its transparency, apparent honesty and clarity of expression in Spanish.
It was the transition from shared leadership to adaptive leadership taken from a business manual on team management, as explained by Professor Ramón Rico, as will surely be studied immediately in business schools and as confirmed by Richard Plugge, the main mind behind the creation. 10 years ago from the team that wins everything from the ashes of Rabobank sunk by the last great doping crisis. “That’s it,” says Plugge, in an interview with EL PAÍS in Guadarrama. “To lead the team we are guided by a business strategy. A journalist has written a book about us. There are many lessons in the book on how we do it. I’m not saying that it also works for other organizations. We try to give each of the runners something to feel responsible for. We begin, so to speak, thinking about the end. We set a goal and ask everyone how to achieve it. Everyone feels that the team process is their process. We also did it here in the Vuelta with the three leaders. What do you need? What can you contribute to achieve that goal? “We asked everyone what they wanted and everyone supported the plan.”
The Vuelta was like a gigantic test bed for the Dutch team and, perhaps, the maximum expression of its style. The summum.
They started with two leaders. Then they added Kuss for a strategic reason. “He started to help the other two and ended up winning,” says Plugge, who was in the Vuelta for the last 10 days. “And having three leaders was much better. Our leadership is like that. We asked everyone what they thought was the best plan for the team to ultimately achieve victory in Madrid. We had a meeting on Friday the 8th, after the Tourmalet; We had a meeting on Monday, the second day of rest, in Torrelavega, and we had a meeting after Angliru. On Monday we said, and the runners approved it, we are all going to fight for it, each one of us giving our all until we see how far we can go. After Angliru, however, everything was clear. Sepp was the strongest because he was still wearing the red jersey. So, everyone said, now we want Sepp as leader.”
It is the official version. In the lines of management and business books, blood, feelings, affections or hatred do not flow, which, in reality, are the materials with which relationships are woven. Kuss later confessed that he was not so clear after Bejes, on the eve of Angliru, that he thought that the others had not respected the plan, that he did not really know what it meant for the team, for his teammates, for the bosses… Vingegaard He justified his long-range attack that left Kuss’s lead shaking in the emotional burden of his friend Van Hooydonck’s accident. Roglic said that the plan was that he would attack in the last meters only to win the stage, not to touch Kuss’s lead. Injuries that may endanger the cohabitation of the three in the same team in 2024, although both have a long-term contract with Jumbo and would have to pay compensation if they broke it.
“I don’t know,” Plugge says. “Primoz supported the plan. He said he supported Sepp being the leader. I think that the personality of champions like Jonas and Primoz, who have already won several grand tours, is so strong that they do not feel jealous if someone else is wearing the red jersey. That really shows his personality. I don’t think there will be any problems in the relationship in the future. Or maybe Primoz doesn’t say it. I always tell them, ‘I don’t want to waste energy thinking what you think, so if you think something, tell me. Then we can discuss.’ “Everyone supported the red jersey for Sepp.”
Plugge, a 54-year-old journalist outside the world of cycling, assumed sponsorship of the team when the shareholders of the Dutch bank decided that it made no sense to continue associating their brand with a sport with such a negative image, but they maintained the agreed sponsorship. With money and no brand, Plugge baptized the team Blanco when he took over as its manager in 2013. “The idea was to reset the past. Start from zero. Build a new approach. That’s why we called ourselves Blanco, because I wanted to leave the past, the history, behind and build something totally different from the other teams. White, a blank paper on which to draw the future,” says Plugge, who began at a time when the reference model in cycling was the Sky of Wiggins and Froome and marginal gains, and following, in part, his For example, first of all he created a good and gigantic team of performance, technology, nutrition, science. “At Rabobank there were too many bosses and not enough workers. And, furthermore, a lot of money was spent on signing very good runners, figures, and, in my opinion, if you want to fit someone into your culture, it is always better to sign talents that have not yet blossomed and make them grow yourself. And that is what happened with Primoz, Dylan Groenewegen, Jonas, Sepp Kuss, Wout van Aert… We have many.”
Now everyone wants to be Jumbo, the first team to win the big three, and with three different riders, in the same year, which faces an unknown problem: once they reach the top, how to continue growing, what they can do to improve in 2024. “We will do an evaluation as always. I already started after the Tour de France, as I do every year, together with Merijn Zeeman, the sports director. We analyze what has gone wrong, what has gone well. Where we can improve for next year. We try to be better. Whether that translates into better results, I don’t know. Because it is very difficult to be better. Maybe we need to earn a monument. We have not won Paris-Roubaix, we have not won Flanders… We are also humble. We have to see where we can improve.”
Although the sponsorship of Jumbo supermarkets ends next December, Plugge is not suffering. Think about a future with a big global sponsor. What the team is now is nothing compared to the vision of the future that, he calculates, will become a reality in 2030. “We have an example of our aspiration in Barcelona, in the Chicago Bulls, in the All Blacks… Teams that are more bigger than their sport. Global brands,” says Plugge, who is not afraid to think that a sport as small as cycling can generate that projection. “I think it is possible in cycling, yes. I hope so. Be bigger than our sport. That is, perhaps, the great objective.”