What happens to a team if the absolute leader has to cancel just before the Tour de France? In the case of Team Sunweb and Tom Dumoulin, the team moves on by trial and error to a new goal, although the name of Dumoulin always sings somewhere.
Nicolas Roche gets off the Team Sunweb bus and enters the late morning sun of Reims. The 35-year-old Irishman has started his ninth Tour, finished once in twelfth and once in thirteenth in Paris and knows what kind of circus 'La Grande Boucle' is.
Or better: can be. Because there are no camera crews on the famous Boulevard Lundy this Tuesday that fall over each other to hear how Dumoulin got through the first three days and what he expects from the flat fourth stage. Two Dutch journalists are waiting for Wilco Kelderman, furthermore it is an oasis of peace.
"That's right: it is quiet with us this Tour so far," says Roche, when he sits down on a stool. "And that is nice somewhere. Not that it will help me to win a ride, but it does mean that I can get on my bike at every start, draw in peace, ride back to the bus, another can take a cup of coffee and chill. "
It is the difference between competing for the final victory - as Sunweb did last year with the final number two Dumoulin - or competing for stage victories - for the German formation with Dutch roots this year's main goal in the Tour.
"I think the underdog role can help us," says team leader Aike Visbeek, leaning against the team bus. "In any case, there is a positive vibe in the team. A lot of press can cost energy, especially since with Tom all the news is always magnified. We now have no problems with that."
Tom Dumoulin (left) finished second in the Tour last year. (Photo: Pro Shots)
"Riders are stoic among rumors"
A week earlier, Team Sunweb's Tour team is presented in a big way at the Shimano Experience Center in Valkenburg, but all the attention goes to the man who is not there three days before the start of the Tour de France.
The AD and De Telegraaf unpacked in the morning with the news that Dumoulin wants to leave Sunweb after this season despite an ongoing contract. The AD even reports the new employer: Jumbo-Visma.
The messages come as a surprise for Sunweb, which is trying to maintain calm just before the most important game of the year. "There are rumors, so we gave the riders an update on the situation," says Visbeek. "And that situation is that there will be a meeting with Tom and the team management. That's it ."
"But to be honest: I am surprised how little it is in the Tour team. The riders think: they are rumors. And there were rumors last year. So they are pretty stoic about it."
Roche read the news just like the rest of the world on Wednesday morning. "It was a shock. But it was also just speculation from a newspaper, there is nothing official. If Tom had been in the Tour team, it would have been a different story. If he leaves, it will of course have an effect on the team , but not on this Tour. The biggest shock was that Tom opted out of the Tour. "
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"Our plans were completely confused"
With 300 meters to go in the first Tour stage, Michael Matthews looks back briefly. The increasing arrival in Brussels is very suitable for the Sunweb sprinter, but he is shocked to see that he is in the lead too early. The Australian pushes against better knowledge, but stops and comes no further than place six. Mike Teunissen, Sunweb rider in 2017 and 2018, wins and takes the yellow.
Matthews was most pronounced 2.5 weeks earlier when five weeks after his fall in the Giro d'Italia, Dumoulin put a line through the Tour and put an end to what the Limburger himself with the necessary cynicism called "Tom Dumoulins Knee Journal".
"I don't know what to do now," Matthews sighed to the NOS on June 20. "The team is really in the pit. Everything revolved around the yellow jersey for Tom. Our plans were completely confused."
The Australian fears that he will fall short in the sprints due to more climbing and less explosive training, but the team management does not share those concerns. Matthews is told three days after the cancellation of Dumoulin that he will play an important role in the new goal of the team: going for stage victories.
"The story of Michael's statements is a bit exaggerated," says Visbeek. "The plan was that Michael would be the last man for Tom in stages with an uphill finish. The only difference now is that his finish is 300 meters away."
Matthews reinforces those words by winning the peloton sprint on Monday in the third stage. However, it only gives 'Bling' second place, because Julian Alaphilippe, after a powerful acceleration, is heading for the victory and the yellow. "This is a missed opportunity," says Visbeek. "But it is also a sign that Michael is fine."
Michael Matthews (left) sprints to second place in the third Tour stage. (Photo: Pro Shots)
"I get confused in the sprints"
The fifth stage has just started when Team Sunweb gives an update on Dumoulin's injury. The leader is still severely hampered by his knee and cannot do intensive training. Participation in the Vuelta a España, which starts on August 24, seems far away.
Dumoulin's teammates now color the TV screen. The ride from Saint-Dié-des-Vosges to Colmar has a few big hills and is therefore a great opportunity for Matthews. Sunweb rides the peloton all day long, but the Australian loses his good position in the chaos of the last 3 kilometers and has to settle for place seven.
Once at the team bus, Matthews disillusionedly puts his head on his wheel. He does not seem to register the encouraging words and pats of his teammates.
"I think that many sprinters would be better placed in a boxing ring than in a cycling race," Matthews sighs when he finally answers four questions. "I feel that I am fine, but somehow I get confused during the sprints."
Wilco Kelderman, who did some work for Matthews on the final climb, calls the failed sprint of his teammate "just sucks." "But we also know that the Tour is the highest level and that it is very difficult to win here. Of course we are disappointed now, but if we do not keep trying, we will certainly not win. There are still plenty of great opportunities, so we keep fighting. "
Michael Matthews is disappointed. Very disappointed after a stage in which the team worked for him all day. # TDF2019Avatar