Jumbo-Visma's formation of a women's team led by former world champion Marianne Vos had been rumoured for the better part of a year and now that it has finally materialised, the team is expected to be one of the most powerful among the women's peloton in 2021.
The team will begin with a second-tier Continental licence, mainly due to a technicality, but plan to upgrade to WorldTeam status the following year, and they have the full backing of sponsors Jumbo and Visma until 2023.
Cyclingnews spoke with Jumbo-Visma Women's boss, Esra Tromp, about what it took to secure one of the sport's most iconic athletes, and about the team's longterm strategy and indefinite future in professional cycling.
The news of Jumbo-Visma creating a women's team first surfaced in January, with the men's team manager, Richard Plugge, confirming that he was investigating the idea.
Plugge expanded the Jumbo-Visma organisation by adding an under-23 development programme, as well as a community outreach programme through their Jumbo-Visma Academy to foster the development of kids in cycling. At that time, he recognised the need to develop more girls and women in the sport.
Tromp told Cyclingnews that the Jumbo-Visma organisation, which is managed under the Blanco Pro Cycling umbrella, has grown to a point where it is now financially viable to support a women's professional cycling team. The move was also in line with the title sponsors' request to add a women's programme that had a direct link to the academy's initiative to bring more girls into the sport.
"We started with some conversations last year, at the beginning of 2019, but the whole organisation needed to be ready to add to the team. This year, they started with an academy and a development team, and so it was already a big expanse of the organisation. To add a new women's team, the whole organisation and all the sponsors needed to be ready," Tromp told Cyclingnews.
"There was always a dream to have a women's team because with the academy launch, we support young children and get them excited about cycling, and there aren't only men in this world, and so we needed to have a way to help women also become professional cyclists," she said.
"From our sponsors' perspective, they always wanted to have a women's team, but the organisation wasn't ready. Now it is, so it took a few years to get everyone on the same page. This felt like the right point to expand with a women's team. There was a request from the sponsors, and it was really nice to have that kind of a support. From both the sponsors' and organisation's perspective, it was the right time to make the next step," said Tromp.
Jumbo-Visma will be entering the women's professional peloton during the second year of the reforms of women's cycling, whereby there are two tiers of teams – Continental and WorldTeams – that compete largely on the Women's WorldTour and lower-ranked events. Part of the reforms include live television coverage of the Women's WorldTour, and top-tier teams are obliged to pay minimum salaries, along with health and social benefits to their riders.
The UCI denied Jumbo-Visma's application for a WorldTeam licence because it's a new programme, and according to the licencing rules, team's applying to the highest level must have already held a Continental licence for at least one year prior.
"We applied for WorldTour status, and we checked every box except one point: there is one UCI rule where a team needs to hold a Continental licence the year before it applies for a WorldTeam licence," Tromp told Cyclingnews.
"Our team is completely new, and so we don't have a Continental licence this year, so we could not get the WorldTeam licence for 2021. We'll start with a Continental licence, and then we'll apply for a WorldTeam licence in 2022," she said.
"The commitment from [sponsors] is for more than a few years – the same as the men's team – which gives us a lot of stability. It's for the first three years [2021-2023], but we want to continue for longer."
Jumbo-Visma Women may be starting their first season as a second-tier team, but they will have one of the strongest and most winning riders in the world with Marianne Vos.
The multiple world champion's contract with the CCC-Liv women's team comes to an end in December, and, according to Tromp, she was searching for a change and a new team that could help her raise her game in 2021.
Tromp said her negotiations with Vos were very smooth, and they built an immediate team-rider trust and bond. Jumbo-Visma Women could offer Vos a world-class programme, complete with a professional organisation, training facility and plans, nutrition and equipment, and an environment that would allow a professional athlete to thrive. In return, Vos gives the team a proven winner and leader, and 15 years of world-class experience. She is also a rider who can help the team develop new talent.
"With making the team and searching for the right riders, I had always had it in mind to have a really strong team with potential, and to combine young talent with one of the biggest riders in the world – Marianne – because of her experience," Tromp said.
Vos' professional cycling career spans 14 years and 12 world championship titles across three disciplines: road, cyclo-cross and track.
Last year alone, she won 19 races, some of which contributed to her overall victory at the 2019 UCI Women's WorldTour. It was one of her strongest seasons since returning from a hiatus in 2016. This year, Vos won three stages of the Giro Rosa, and finished fourth at the Imola World Championships.
Vos has been racing under the same organisation for 15 years, albeit under a series of different title sponsors. She started racing professionally for the Team DSB-Ballast Nedam in 2006 – the year she won her first elite women's road race world title in Salzburg. Over the years, the team has changed titles to Nederland Bloeit, Rabobank Women Team, WM3 Energie, WaowDeals Pro Cycling and now CCC-Liv.
"We wanted to add value as a team for her, too, and it was important for Marianne because she has been on the same team for 15 years, but never changed the organisation that she rode for, and so for her it was a big deal to change teams," Tromp said.
"Marianne wanted to make a change to become better. We can give Marianne the team, organisation, training, equipment, nutrition and facilities that are needed to become better; we can give her the whole shebang. That is why she wanted to change. The men’s team is doing so great, and has really focused on nutrition and training, and we have so much knowledge from the men's team that will be available to the women's team. That was one of the main reasons Marianne wanted to change teams."
Tromp noted that the team also held initial discussions with Annemiek van Vleuten, but those didn't continue, and the former world champion made the decision to sign with Movistar Team Women for 2021.
"We had some conversations with Marianne Vos first, and we were really happy with that, and the trust in each other was really high," Tromp said. "We wanted to focus on Marianne more. We had contact with many other riders, but it wasn't concrete at all. There was contact with Annemiek, too, but no specific conversations about riding for the team."
'We want to win'
Vos will spearhead a relatively young roster that includes Jip van den Bos, Riejanne Markus, Anouska Koster, Nancy van der Burg, Romy Kasper, Aafke Soet, Teuntje Beekhuis, Julie van de Velde, Pernille Mathiesen, Karlijn Swinkels and Anna Henderson.
"We got many, over a hundred, applications," Tromp said. "We had some ideas of who we wanted on the team. For example, Jip van den Bos [from Boels Dolmans] is a really strong talent who's stepping up her game but not reflecting what she is capable of, so I have a project in mind with her.
"In selecting the team, we looked at races, results and their personality and whether it fitted with the team. It's important to have a group that fits really well together with a strong connection and the same values. Physical aspects are important to get results and to have the potential to become a really good rider. All the aspects we looked at were personal, physical, and values."
Tromp said the team will unite to get to know one another in November and December, and although they are beginning plans to host a warm-weather training camp in January, such a project will depend on the restrictions surrounding COVID-19.
As for the team's goals, Tromp said it will focus on the Ardennes Classics, the Tour of Flanders, the Giro Rosa, the PostNord WestSweden Vargarda and the Ladies Tour of Norway in 2021. The team will also support the riders selected to compete in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
"We want to be competing with the best riders: to be physical, race well and show ourselves," Tromp said. "We want to show ourselves and win."
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