Jumbo-Visma’s men’s team has been in the news A LOT lately. Between a clean sweep of the Vuelta a España podium, the drama around that whole thing, the rumored merger with Soudal Quick-Step, and now news out of the blue that Amazon may be a major sponsor, it’s been a wild few weeks for the yellow and black team. But what about the women?
When the news of the merger started to set the cycling bubble on fire a lot of people were rightfully confused, and even more so when everyone noticed not a word had been said regarding the two teams’ respective women’s outfits and development squads. But even before all that, the Jumbo women’s team has had an unsettled year.
Last spring, general manager Esra Tromp left the team; a few months later she would join EF Education to launch its new women’s team. Her departure from Jumbo made little news and there wasn’t much explanation, but followers of the sport tipped it as an odd move. Tromp was an important part of the Parkhotel-Valkenburg team that developed the likes of Lorena Wiebes and Demi Vollering. Her involvement in Jumbo-Visma marked it as a female-friendly outfit and her abrupt departure midway through the Dutch team’s most important time in the season was alarming, and only the tip of the iceberg, as we were soon to find out.
Now things have accelerated. Just after the European Championships and the European portion of the Women’s WorldTour season had wrapped up, Jumbo dropped the news that the women’s team was “ready to take the next step.” That step included hiring three new members of management, all men.
Maarten van Kooij will be the team’s new performance coach, with Jan Boven and Jos van Emden as race coaches, aka directors in the car and such. Alongside the news of those hires, the team subtly slid in mention that current directors Carmen Small and Lieselot Decroix have already left the team, while Marieke van Wanroij will depart after the final two WWT races in China in October.
That staff turnover has been accompanied by a mass exodus of riders. Karlijn Swinkels, Noemi Ruëgg, Coryn Labecki, Teuntje Beekhuis, and Kim Cadzow all announced new teams for 2024; that’s roughly a third of the roster. It all adds up to major change for a young team that, to now, had been a stable operation. The team did not respond to Escape Collective‘s request for comment.
A fast start
Jumbo-Visma added a women’s team to their already successful men’s side in 2021. In their first year, the team was only UCI Continental due to rules (since changed) about joining the WorldTour in a team’s first year.
Before even signing any riders Jumbo-Visma first scooped up Tromp. A former professional herself, Tromp went from racing for Parkhotel-Valkenburg from 2014 to 2017 to a team representative in 2018. She worked for Jumbo-Visma as a sports director in the first year and as the general manager in 2022, and was a huge reason a lot of the riders signed up for the new project. And from the get-go, they got some really talented riders.
Their first signing was none other than the G.O.A.T. Marianne Vos. Vos was followed by longtime teammate Riejanne Markus and other familiar names in Anouska Koster, Romy Kasper, and Karlijn Swinkels, plus new faces like Anna Henderson and Amber Kraak.
The team hit the ground running in that first year. They won two cyclocross races with Vos before the road season even started, then three stages of the Simac Ladies Tour, a stage of the Ladies Tour of Norway with Markus, two Giro Donne stages with Vos, plus Amstel Gold Race and Gent-Wevelgem. Especially for a new, Continental team, it was a list of results that even WorldTeams would dream of achieving.
The following year, now part of the WorldTour, Jumbo-Visma had even more wins, highlighted by two stages each of the Giro Donne and the first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. It looked like they were really hitting their stride.
A bump in the road
But 2023 proved to be a bit rough. Originally outsiders may have chalked it up to Vos being absent due to her iliac artery troubles, or how the peloton overall struggled with the onslaught that was SD Worx, but the true cracks started to show in April when Tromp left the organization.
Even after Vos returned to the peloton at La Vuelta Femenina in May, Jumbo’s two stage wins there would be the only WWT wins the team saw all year. Markus had a quietly solid general classification in both the Vuelta and Tour, and Henderson continued to improve through the season, but otherwise, the team has kept a low profile, performing near the top but not at the top step, only landing a few WorldTour podiums all season.
But if results don’t tell us a lot about what’s going on in the team, the turnover does. Prior to summer 2023, the majority of Jumbo-Visma’s management team was women. Tromp headed the organization as general manager alongside Richard Plugge, the men’s G.M. In August of 2022, the team added Rutger Tijssen, who prior to the job had been working in speed skating, as a sports director. Interestingly, until his role in Jumbo’s women’s team, Tijssen had no experience in cycling.
Aside from those three, there were the three female sports directors: Decroix, Small, and Van Wanroij. All have deep backgrounds in the sport. Decroix rode professionally for Cervelo Test Team, Boels-Dolmans, and both started and ended her career with Lotto-Soudal and was one of Tromp’s first director hires in 2021.
Small was also a professional, racing at TIBCO-To The Top (now EF Education-TIBCO-SVB), Specialized-Lululemon, Cylance and Cervélo-Bigla. She ended her professional career at Team Virtu in 2017 and immediately signed up to drive the director’s car that same year. She stayed with the team for two years before signing up to direct Ceratizit-WNT and joined Jumbo-Visma in 2022. Van Wanroij is another former rider who also represented Boels-Dolmans during her career. She retired in 2014 and worked briefly as a DS for Parkhotel-Valkenburg when Tromp first made the jump from rider to management. Like Decroix, she joined the Jumbo team as assistant DS in 2021.
Together, the four made up essentially the team’s entire senior management from the start until Tijssen’s addition. Then Tromp left and Jumbo announced the arrival of the three new male staffers alongside Tijssen, while the trio of Small, Decroix, and Van Wanroij exit.
Jumbo isn’t completely changing. Vos, Markus, and Henderson are all on contract with Jumbo-Visma for next year, as are Fem van Empel, Amber Kraak, and a handful of others. Three new riders have been signed for 2024: Margaux Vigie from Lifeplus-Wahoo, Lieke Nooijen from Parkhotel Valkenburg, and Mijntje Geurts from Lotto Dstny.
Looking at one piece at a time it seems like the team is just trying something new, but if you start to pin everything up with strings, the sheer level of turnover does not look good at Jumbo-Visma right now.
The season is coming to an end so we are unlikely to get many answers unless anyone opens up over the offseason, but fans of the team are worried, perhaps with good reason. Replacing a fully female management team with a fully male one, in 2023, is not something we want to see. Over the years we’ve seen some amazing former professionals go from athlete to DS or agent and it’s been great for the sport, so the situation at Jumbo-Visma leaves a bit of a bad taste.
It seems like the team has their hands full on the men’s side, which might be causing some things to fall through the cracks on the women’s. The recent The Cyclists’ Alliance survey – which I wrote about in the first installment of my new Wheel Talk newsletter – shed light on some of the issues in women’s cycling by talking directly with the riders, and a few mentioned that while being connected to big men’s teams may seem nice, sometimes it also means the women are forgotten about or passed over in favour of their male counterparts.
As for the future of the team, only time will tell. The team has 13 riders signed for 2024, 10 of them Dutch, but only Vos is signed for the 2025 season. In 2011 when Team Garmin-Cervélo was having trouble the first thing they cut was the women’s team. Clearly the men’s team is going through something … but a lot has changed since 2011 so hopefully the women of Jumbo-Visma will not suffer the same fate.
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