An introduction, and an apology





1.1.2021



It’s an honour to be invited to contribute English language content for TJVS. I can’t promise to match up to the efforts of my new colleagues but I hope my naïve ramblings will at the very least entertain you in the off-season, and by the time the 2021 rolls around, in whatever form it may take, I might have more of a clue what I’m talking about.


I’ve written regularly for publications about football, ice hockey, tennis and even roller derby in the past and am a published short fiction author and aspiring novelist, but despite have followed pro cycling for almost a decade, it’s the first time I’ve ever written about it. I have a lot to say, yet much of my contributions are likely to be emotional ranting based on personal opinion and gut reaction – I don’t have the depth of knowledge to throw stats and data at you and I tend to write the kind of pieces that I would want to read. And at its heart, from a fan perspective, isn’t emotional connection what sport is all about, anyway?


Which leads me neatly onto why Team Jumbo Visma, and why now?


It’s a short and simple story (which I will inevitably turn into a long and complicated one). First an admission: albeit indirectly, it was Team Sky that first drew me to cycling. I know, I know. But back then, following Wiggins and Froome was, I guess, a partisan entry point into a sport I had no knowledge or experience of, outside of Mark Cavendish and his sprinting prowess.


I was brought up on a diet of supporting my local football team and cheering for Great Britain in every Olympic event under the sun, watching my Dad follow England in cricket and rugby and embracing the underdog spirit that we Brits are always proud to embrace, as the likes of Tim Henman battled at Wimbledon and my own beloved Watford Football Club (they wear yellow and black, incidentally) languished in the lower divisions of the football league.


I watched Wiggins race to victory in 2012, the first British man to do so, closely followed by London’s incredible Olympics and the success of our cyclists on both track and road helped me bridge the gap. I was on board the Sky train, and excited to learn about a new sport, especially one where the Brits were doing so well.


I should have known better, really. I drifted from my roots when football became less about the joy of the game and more about the money. In athletics, my childhood hero, 100m champion Linford Christie, was unseated from his throne due to doping allegations. In tennis, the petulant teenager Andy Murray didn’t excite me – I was far more enthusiastic about the likes of Nadal and Tsonga.


I got into ice hockey. The feisty New York Rangers circa 2012 drew me in with their team spirit and gutd-or-glory will to win. The reality started to sink in – I didn’t have to always support the Brits. In fact, it was totally fine to have favourites that weren’t in fact from my place of birth. Most of my favourite cricket and rugby players on the England team didn’t even hail from the UK at all.


Did you need to know all this? No. I fear I’m probably just going the long way around apologising for being British. I humbly accept my former mistakes and now that the stupidity of Brexit is upon us, beg you all for forgiveness. Now, onto the cycling!


Years followed and I only ever really watched the grand tours – but as each year wore on, I became more and more involved, learning little by little the nuances of a sport with so many layers, a subtle yet dramatic narrative, different from moment from moment, day to day, played out against an ever-changing, always breath-taking backdrop. Yet with two small kids on the scene and everything else life throws at you, there weren’t enough hours in the day to commit to any more than those short sections of life, every year. I supported Chris Froome, and Geraint Thomas; they rode for Sky. That was that.


What changed, then? Somewhere in between Froome’s horrific injury in 2019 and Sky’s morphing into Ineos, I effectively became a free agent. I’d been quietly pleased with Roglic’s 2019 Vuelta win and was looking to lend my support to a rider or riders; I had never forged that emotional connection with Sky as a team.


The beauty of cycling, though, lies in the finely poised balance between the team and the individual. No man is an island, and when it comes to cycling, behind every great winner is a valued team supporting them. Supporting a whole team hadn’t occurred to me until the bold line of yellow and black of Jumbo Visma caught my eye (how could it not?) at the front of the pack during this summer’s delayed Criterium du Dauphine. A subconscious yearning for a Watford Football Club replacement manifested itself in sparkling glory.


After the toughest of years, and an agonising wait, cycling was BACK, and Team Jumbo Visma were the team of my dreams: how had I not seen it before? Roglic in top form, super domestique Sepp Kuss bossing the climbs, and multi-talented Wout van Aert fresh from dominating in the Italian classics. The strength in depth; the unshakeable unity; the individual flair – they were all there. And yet alongside these, something more – something that brought with it the emotional connection that the sight of Sky blue never invoked in me. The heart of a team who worked for one another and seem to genuinely care about their team mates.


So something clicked. That was it. The Tour de France arrived and sealed the deal. I didn’t know it then, not fully. But I enjoyed that race. Enjoyed everything about it – until stage 20 – the ultimate test. Would I stay loyal to my new team despite them snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? The answer was absolutely yes. The pain was very, very real. It still hurts to this day and I’ve debated long and hard over whether I can stand to watch Code Geel, the new documentary on the team’s dramatic experiences in France. Part of me is desperate to soak up any and all precious video content, especially after the brilliant three-part Vuelta series released by the team, yet simply the thought of putting myself through all that pain again, and reliving Primoz’s despair as he sat in disbelief at the end of Les Planches de Belles Filles, is too much to bear.


Maybe it will be a catharsis, a cleansing experience? Or maybe watching Primoz put the demons to rest in style at Liege-Baston-Liege and then in Spain is all the closure we needed. It sure as hell made my mind up. This team was not to be defeated. These riders were made of sterner stuff; and those wins were so, so sweet.


So, that’s that. I’ve written some words, and told you very little, but look upon this as my official introduction, and also my apology – for my Britishness, my sense of humour which may or may not translate to my European friends, and for my complete lack of experience. But for me, and this team, there is no past – only a bright, yellow future.


(Next up: Wout’s Super Cyclocross Adventure; and a blow-by-blow account of my reaction to ‘Code Geel’. Until then, and if you stayed with me this far, thanks for reading!)






Roglic win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege