Three seasons ago, LottoNL-Jumbo couldn't buy a win. Three years on and the team has developed into one of the most competitive sprint machines in the peloton, boasting two high-profile sprinters, and two competitive lead-out trains. It's been one of the most impressive yet underrated transformations in recent years.
Back in 2015, the Dutch team struggled all the way until May before Moreno Hofland finally won a stage at the Tour of Yorkshire, and the squad eventually limped home with a meagre six wins in the entire season. It was clear that something had to change.
In 2016 and 2017, the team began a rebuilding process, first signing the talented youngster Dylan Groenewegen, and then rearranging some of the building blocks that were already present within the team. Hofland was allowed to leave for Lotto Soudal at the end of 2016, and the final piece in the jigsaw came ahead of the 2018 season, when the management signed Danny van Poppel from Team Sky. Now Lotto-NL possess not just two fast finishers but two of the most formidable sprint trains in the peloton.
Van Poppel began the season with a win in Valencia, before Groenewegen won in Dubai and then repeated the trick on Wednesday by eclipsing Arnaud Demare and the FDJ train at the Volta ao Algarve. It's amazing what two world-class sprinters can do for morale, not to mention your win ratio, but new signings only tell part of the story behind Lotto's success.
Timo Roosen has been with the team since 2015, joining the year before Groenewegen moved into the WorldTour. It has taken time but the pair are now one of the best sprint double acts on the circuit.
"Of course, Danny won the first race for the team this year and when you see that you want to win too. The motivation gets higher and you want do it as well as the other train did. You keep motivating each other like that, and I think it's good to have both trains next to each other," Roosen, who led Groenewegen to victory at the Volta ao Algarve, told Cyclingnews.
"We have two trains now with Danny joining. That meant that Robert Wagner became part of Danny's train and I race more and more with Dylan."
Of course, Groenewegen hasn't just become an overnight success. He hit double figures in his first season with the team and pulled off a major coup by winning the national title in the same year. In 2017, he built on that platform, winning the final stage of the Tour de France. After winning against Dèmare, the 24-year-old hinted that patience had been key to his development at Lotto and that trying new formats in terms of lead-outs had been part of that process.
"I learned a lot from Robert Wagner. He's with Danny now but Timo is now my lead-out. We've seen last year that he did some lead-outs at the Tour and that went really well. He's full time on the lead-out for me now," Groenewegen said.
Roosen pointed to last year's Tour de France as a key point in the pair's relationship. Unlike Groenewegen, he came through the Rabobank development system but midway through the Tour, he switched rolls with Wagner and moved into the position of Groenewegen's last man.
"At races like the Tour the pace is so high that you need more than one push and I'm the kind of rider who can maybe push for a little longer," Roosen said.
"That's why at the Tour Dylan will have me, probably. We're working towards the Tour. The Tour isn't like it was five years ago and it's a lot more hectic. You need to be able to go into the wind more often. That's part of why we've changed things. If it gets hectic then I can get to the front. Then I can have that punch in the end."
On day one in the Algarve, Lotto's plan worked perfectly and although the sprint was indeed hectic, it was Groenewegen who came out on top, after another impressive ride from Roosen and the rest of the team.
"It was really hectic but I could sprint for the win because the lead-out did a really good job. I'm really happy with the result," Groenewegen said as he made his way to the podium to pick up the leader's jersey.
As well as settling on their formation, Roosen believes that the team have benefitted from the added experience of another year of riding together.
"He's a little bit stronger but also we've a bit more experience of working together. We know how Dylan likes to finish and we know what to do. The team has come together and we've been able to execute our plan. The team is also a little stronger than last year," Roosen said.
Fitter, stronger, more productive: LottoNL have taken their time in reaching this point but with van Poppel and Groenewegen both under 25, they've ensured a promising future both for their sprinters and the team in general.