At the presentation of Team Sunweb on Tuesday in Amsterdam it was much about the rider who was not there. Tom Dumoulin, the face of the German cycling team for many years, leaves a considerable void behind his departure for Jumbo-Visma. The question is: how will it be filled in?
The scenario of Team Sunweb's team presentation could be drawn in advance in recent years: after the official part, dozens of journalists hurried to the stool where Dumoulin was allowed to repeat his preview of the new cycling season for at least an hour.
In the shadow of the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, Tuesday was just as busy as ever, but the attention was more evenly distributed. "Tom was the tall tree that caught a lot of wind. And it is gone now," acknowledged Sam Oomen, one of the potential leaders in the post-Dumoulin era.
"You shouldn't underestimate what Tom's departure means. He really was the face of this team. We are still talking about him for nothing, it's just special to ride a team with someone who has a big lap Tom has been one of a kind in that regard. But there will always be new guys, we will find our way as a team. I don't think you should speak of a complete reset. "
Wilco Kelderman is one of the leaders at Team Sunweb. (Photo: Team Sunweb / Vincent Riemersma)
"The young dogs are motivated"
Wilco Kelderman took a good look two months ago at the first team meeting for the 2020 season. The Dutch classification rider himself is 28 and therefore difficult to describe as old, but with Team Sunweb only Nicolas Roche (35), Chad Haga (31) and Michael Matthews (29) are even older than he is.
It is no coincidence that 18 of the 29 riders of the German formation are 24 or younger; team boss Iwan Spekenbrink's team has always focused on the youth. But without an absolute top rider like Dumoulin, the (rapid) development of talents such as Marc Hirschi, Robert Power, Jai Hindley, Nils Eekhoff, Cees Bol and also Oomen will become even more important.
"I noticed in October that they are all super talents, who are super motivated," said Kelderman about his young teammates. "It brings a different atmosphere and I actually like that. Young dogs that are open everywhere give a new impulse to a team."
After eight years with Team Sunweb, Dumoulin sought a new impulse, and found it at Jumbo-Visma. Kelderman, who walked the other way three years ago, is sorry that the 2017 Giro winner has left, but he does get it. "In top sport you sometimes just need something new to have the motivation to get the best out of yourself. I think it's a good choice for Tom."
And, they hope with Team Sunweb: the departure of Dumoulin can also have a positive effect for the riders who have stayed. "I now have a better chance of driving for myself," said Kelderman, who will be Team Sunweb's leader in the Giro d'Italia next year. "This year there were not many races left for me, that was a bit of a swallow. Now I have the full freedom to choose which races I want to go full for."
Team boss Iwan Spekenbrink. (Photo: Team Sunweb / Vincent Riemersma)
"We have no influence on the outside world"
A lack of freedom, and an important role for the many protocols, has repeatedly been given as a reason in recent years when a rider left Team Sunweb. Dumoulin also made no secret that he sometimes felt trapped in all the rules of the team.
Those stories, combined with poor results (Sunweb won only nine races in 2019) and a small run-off (in addition to Dumoulin this winter also the riders Max Walscheid, Jan Bakelants, Louis Vervaeke and Lennard Kämna, the team leaders Aike Visbeek and Arthur van Dongen and trainer Hendrik Werner) ensured that the often-praised Team Sunweb suddenly and regularly came out in the news.
"And that's fine, it's part of it," said team leader Marc Reef. "But we have not really been concerned with how the outside world looks at us, because you usually have no influence on that. We have talked about whether we have dealt with things in the right way and whether we should do it differently. "
According to Reef, the most important lesson of a disappointing season is that it is crucial to stick to your own vision in every situation. "That in good and bad times you do not just deviate from what you stand for and you should not allow yourself to be influenced too much by what comes to you from outside."
That vision should again ensure greater success in 2020, even without Dumoulin. "I'm definitely going to miss Tom, because despite having had a lot of discussion in the last year, it was always with the intention to make himself and the team better," says Reef. "But Tom's departure also offers opportunities. That is always the case when someone leaves: other riders seize their opportunity to fill the void."
See also: The cycling calendar of 2020