Unveiling your Tour de France team six months before the race begins, may not perhaps be the smartest media tactic in world cycling, as Jumbo-Visma's star triumvirate of Primož Roglič, Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruiswijk is already discovering, with the team struggling to get its Dutch duo on the road, following a spate of injury and illness.
With Dumoulin's comeback to racing now further postponed due to intestinal problems, an air of uncertainty has crept into the team's Grand Tour grand designs, as Kruiswijk is also in the sick bay and will miss Paris-Nice while he recovers from a knee injury. Roglič meanwhile, is at least scheduled to make his season debut at the 'Race to the Sun.'
Over at Team Ineos however, where they specialise in keeping everyone guessing over leadership duties — sometimes even deep into the Grand Tours themselves — all their options for their own triumvirate of champions, Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome — seemingly remain open.
Froome's return to the World Tour scene at next week's UAE Tour will be highly scrutinised for signs either of waning form or of a dramatic return to his best, but there's no doubt that the intention on Froome's part is for the four-time Tour de France winner to be at the Nice Grand Depart in late June.
Yet for the most part this year, Ineos have maintained their tradition of playing their leadership cards close to their chest.
"Announcing the Tour team early seems to be a new tactic that teams are using and Jumbo-Visma's a good example of that," Brett Lancaster, sports director for Team Ineos at the Tour de la Provence said, "but if you get problems that's a tough one."
Lancaster also agreed that the days of single leader teams are almost over. "It's hard for teams to justify just having a sprinter-led team, and it's definitely now gone down the path of GC-led teams. We know that Jumbo-Visma are banging on the door and competition's great. A lot of teams have stepped up and it's really good for the sport."
With Pavel Sivakov already seeking to build on last year's successes, and Bernal, Froome and Thomas all building into their new season, the media speculation over Jumbo-Visma's line-up and in particular Dumoulin's continued absence from racing, is an unwanted headache for the Dutch team.
Even in mid-February, the expectations of team leaders are already high, as Dumoulin knows all too well.
"Of course, a spanner in the works won't help," the Australian said of Jumbo-Visma's predicament. "But it's about managing that. We take it week by week, looking at the form riders. We take a serious approach to how we select our teams."
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