Last season, for the first time, there was mainly negative attention for Team Sunweb. Team boss Iwan Spekenbrink looks back on Tom Dumoulin's departure just before the new cycling year and explains why he believes his team will be successful again without the big eye-catcher.
During a tour in the brand new office of Team Sunweb along the A1 at Deventer, Spekenbrink explains desk after desk what each employee adds to his team.
In the more than eleven years that the 43-year-old Twent has been in charge of the cycling formation, the emphasis is always on the team, but last year it was all about 1 of the 130 employees.
Leader Dumoulin was injured in a fall in the Giro d'Italia in May and three months later made the switch to Jumbo-Visma despite an ongoing contract.
"People want to make sure that there is a fight between us and Tom," says Spekenbrink at a long table in his office. "But you can also come to the conclusion together that we can no longer get the most out of each other."
Sunweb team boss Iwan Spekenbrink. (Photo: Team Sunweb / Vincent Riemersma)
Still, it couldn't have been a nice message when Dumoulin told you he wanted to leave.
"Of course you want to retain someone who is super talented. Only our vision is that everyone should take responsibility for the performance; the riders and all the people around them."
"That means that riders must be fully motivated to receive all the knowledge and inspiration, but also to continue to give it. If a rider says that it will not work out for a while, then you know that it will go less well. Because with talent only you can't make it on this high level. "
Was it immediately clear that it was done with Dumoulin?
"At a certain point, that message became clear. And we made the estimate that we were no longer going to get Tom inspired to go for it with his colleagues. I think it's very mature to conclude: shit, we can't do it anymore "It is better to break up. In the end, his departure will be better for us. As strange as that sounds and how unique the sportsman Tom Dumoulin is."
Try to explain that…
"We know that we are very demanding, but that has also brought us success. If we had to make a compromise to keep this situation workable, we might have retained success in the short term, but lost much in the long term."
In 2019 you received more negative than positive publicity for the first time. Has that been difficult?
"In the media you sometimes have two columns, while the story is actually much longer. So sometimes stories are indiscriminate, sometimes stories are not entirely true and sometimes it is not true at all. Of course that affects people in the team, because we are all proud. "
"We just told everyone that our work is very simple: we have to get to the finish as quickly as possible. And if we do that well enough, everyone will find you great. And that is not always justified."
"So what we have to do is not allow ourselves to be influenced too much by what is written and said, but simply continue to do our work very well."
'2019 is about Edo Maas. The rest is not relevant '
- Sporting, 2019 was a dramatic season for Team Sunweb. But that disappointment is out of proportion to the accident of Edo Maas, a nineteen-year-old rider from the training team who sustained a paraplegia in the promises version of the Tour of Lombardy in October when he crashed into a car that had been driven on the course. "We all get completely involved in top-class sport, winning and losing sometimes seems very important. But when we talk about 2019, we are really only talking about Edo. The rest is not relevant," says a visibly emotional Spekenbrink. "You win or lose a match, but what happened to Edo is of a totally different size. It has made many people very sad and it still has a big impact."
The word 'deflate' often came back in those critical stories, because quite a few riders and supervisors left alongside Dumoulin. Do you understand that?
"It has been several years in a row now that a lot of teams are after our staff. So it is logical that people have left, but it is certainly not a run-down. I am surprised that it is called that way, but we should see it as a compliment that we have become relevant. "
The story that regularly comes along is that departed riders say that they missed freedom through your protocols.
"A rider wants to get a grip on things. But that also means that you have to work in a team with the supervisors. The moment you are just a little less motivated to let those supervisors function properly, it starts to grind a bit. And then sounds like that sometimes come up. But that has nothing to do with a protocol. That has nothing to do with how people work on the floor every day and to what extent they can afford to do that together. "
Do you have a cabinet with protocols here at the office?
"Certainly, but every company has it. We are sometimes too open and vulnerable in it. Everything is negotiable; take the responsibility to convince someone that it can be improved. That also applies to riders."
Victories of Team Sunweb in years with Dumoulin
- 2012: 32
- 2013: 26
- 2014: 41
- 2015: 18
- 2016: 15
- 2017: 19
- 2018: 11
- 2019: 9
The highlight of Team Sunweb's history: Tom Dumoulin's Giro victory in 2017. (Photo: Pro Shots)
You started your team presentation in December with the words: "This is a team with a mission." Was that a message for the team or for the outside world?
"We are a team with high expectations. 2019 was a year less and you notice that people within the team really want to show what kind of team we are."
Does it feel like you have to regroup?
"Certainly. Behind leaders such as Wilco Kelderman and Sam Oomen there is a large group of very large talents. We think that there are riders who can participate in front of the podium again in big laps, but they need some time."
You can also be a team that focuses on training young riders.
"No, we want to perform. It's great to see Marc Hirschi grow from a world champion in the promises to a very good debut season with the pros. But we still have the dream of winning another big round. Strangely enough maybe more than ever."
See also: The cycling calendar of 2020