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Visma–Lease a Bike Racing Against Time to Turn Their Fortunes Around

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

To repeat the obvious: It has been a very difficult year for Visma–Lease a Bike, after its two bona fide superstars, Wout van Aert and Jonas Vingegaard, were injured in crashes and had to sit on the sidelines for weeks.

Van Aert returned to racing in the Tour of Norway on May 23, two full months after crashing out of the Dwars door Vlaanderem. He managed one podium finish in the four-stage event and finished 66th in the GC, 13:30 behind the winner, Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Axel Laurence.

But he was upbeat after the race. “My confidence has grown,” he said. “I wanted to test myself and I’m happy that I succeeded. A lot of uncertainty has gone. I felt myself getting better and that was what I hoped for.”

Two-time Tour winner Vingegaard resumed serious training in mid-May, six weeks after sustaining a broken collarbone, several fractured ribs and a punctured lung in the Itzulia Basque Country. Both riders are being tentatively pointed towards the Tour, team boss Richard Plugge told GCN during the Giro d’Italia.

“I think that [Vingegaard’s] doing pretty well but he needs to be at 100 percent to go there,” he said. “He’s a two-time winner of the Tour de France so we have to see how it evolves in the coming weeks. So far he’s doing well, you see the news here and there that he’s training.

Visma Lease a Bike
It has been a very difficult year for Visma–Lease a Bike. © Profimedia

“Also, Wout is coming back. We’re looking at how we can go into the Tour de France with the best team possible. Because if we go there we want to win it again, so we need to be 100% with everyone going there. Hopefully, Jonas can make it but now we wait and see.”

Plugge and his team can use some good news. They have registered only one win since the young American Matteo Jorgenson dramatically stepped into van Aert’s shoes and won the Dwars door Vlaanderem. But even that win was tainted. It came on stage 9 of the Giro, when 22-year-old Olaf Kooij outsprinted the eventual points classification winner, Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek). But he failed to start the next stage because of illness.

It’s easy to believe that Visma–Lease a Bike have been cursed after making history last year by winning all three Grand Tours and by having the top three finishers in the year’s final Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España.

With its one-time talisman Primož Roglič now riding for BORA-hansgrohe, Giro winner and two-time Tour champ Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) in superb form and world time trial world champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick Step) joining the ranks of Grand Tour riders, Visma will need to have both van Aert and Vingegaard back at their best to be competitive in the remaining Grand Tours and maybe, just maybe turn this year of disaster into a season of racing they can be proud of.

Certainly, Visma have other good riders, such as Jorgenson and last year’s Vuelta winner Sepp Kuss. But none of them are capable of competing with the likes of Pogačar and Roglič in the high mountains.

Of course there are other big races this year besides the Grand Tours, such as the Paris Summer Olympics and the world championships in Switzerland in September. But who on Visma besides van Aert could compete with Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Evenepoel and Pogačar in these one-day races?

The comeback race for success in 2024 begins with the biggest test of all, a Tour de France that has been called the hardest Tour in history. From this moment, Visma–Lease a Bike have nearly four weeks to get their superstars in winning form. It’s a long shot, but the team has performed wonders before.