Behind the vague quotes and increasingly unconvincing embraces of Jumbo-Visma’s triplet of leaders, there is tension and concern inside the team over the events of the past 48 hours. In the team hotel, a fragile peace feels close to shattering.
Two sources, both of whom are close to the team and were in the Jumbo team hotel Wednesday night after the Angliru, indicated that while the official Jumbo press release touted a “fine display of teamwork” on stage 17, there are few on the inside who believe that to be the case. This is not how things were supposed to go. The team understands the public relations nightmare it has stepped into, leadership continues to equivocate, and the result is a group of riders and staff who now feel, to paraphrase multiple conversations, like they are walking on a tightrope. “Awkward” was another word used frequently.
Both sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
There are rumours of an emergency meeting called with directors and higher-level staff after stage 17, though the team says those are overblown. “We discuss daily the stage and the way how we should approach next stages,” the team press officer told Escape Collective. There are many meetings, of course, and perhaps this was just another one.
The problem at hand hardly needs explaining at this point. One does not need to be an expert in body language to feel the discomfort emanating from the trio of Sepp Kuss, Primož Roglič, and Jonas Vingegaard in the minutes after the latter two very nearly took the Vuelta’s lead off the former. Kuss, still the consummate teammate, let his ambition peek through for only a moment in his post-race interview – “I want my shot” – before quickly stepping back into teammate mode – “We work really well together behind the scenes.” Vingegaard says he wants Kuss to win the Vuelta, except that he keeps making that less likely. Roglič didn’t even bother to look back when he left his team’s red jersey on the side of the Angliru.
What appears to be gurgling beneath the surface is a struggle for power, both now and next summer, within Jumbo-Visma itself. Kuss is not the problem, our sources say. That struggle is between Vingegaard and Roglič and it is playing out on the roads of Spain, in public, with their teammate – a rider present for so many of the team’s Grand Tour wins – currently caught in the middle trying his best to avoid becoming a casualty of friendly fire.
There are too many cooks in this kitchen. The context: Roglič has stated publicly that he wants a leadership opportunity at the 2024 Tour de France. He has also been courted by other teams, including Lidl-Trek, who made contact prior to this Vuelta’s start. He has two years left on his contract, though there are ways around that. He has a decision to make and, more importantly, something to prove at this Vuelta.
Vingegaard also wants leadership at the 2024 Tour de France, and his claim is far stronger, as defending champion, than that of Roglič. He can’t abdicate that throne; hence his decision to follow Roglič wherever he may go. Bringing him to Spain at all was probably Jumbo’s first mistake.
According to Jumbo sports director Grischa Niermann and quotes from Kuss himself, a decision was made earlier in the week to allow the three to race each other. That decision led to the current cascade, because it was in effect an abdication of any real decisionmaking. Management, as of the morning before Wednesday’s stage, had not sat down with the three leaders and told them who was actually leading. Without that clarity, this Vuelta has become a proxy for the team’s broader battle for leadership and opportunity. Kuss is stuck right in the middle.
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