Visma-Lease A Bike sports director Merijn Zeeman has recognised that they face the prospect of losing more races in 2024 following the off-season transfer by longstanding co-leader Primož Roglič to Bora-Hansgrohe.
A member of Jumbo-Visma from 2016 to 2023, Roglič racked up 74 of his 80 career wins to date with the Dutch squad. Last year’s tally alone included the Giro d’Italia, stage victories and a podium finish in the Vuelta a España, the Volta a Catalunya and Tirreno-Adriatico for a second time.
However, as Zeeman explained in an interview in the In Het Wiel podcast, “something changed for Primož” following the rise of teammate and double Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard.
In the same podcast, Zeeman also said that while Jumbo-Visma becoming the first-ever team in history to win all three Grand Tours should remain a reference point, the squad’s overwhelming success in 2023 had sparked a drop in popularity in the peloton – “apart from when riders want to sign for us.” Zeeman also confirmed that one major goal in 2024 will be winning a Monument with Wout van Aert.
“I have had many conversations with Primoz in recent years,” Zeeman told In Het Wiel. “When Jonas really broke through, something changed for Primož.
“On the one hand, he really liked it and was extremely proud of the development of the team. But on the other hand, he gets a lot of motivation from winning himself.
“So I felt that it was becoming increasingly difficult for Primož. But I also didn’t want to just let him go, because he was extremely important to us.”
As for the consequences of Roglic’s move to Bora-Hansgrohe, Zeeman recognised it was a potential game changer. “I know that Jonas can beat anyone, but also that Primož will beat us very often. He is almost impossible to beat on some finishes.”
Prior to the Tour de France itself and assuming there are no changes to race programs, Roglič and Vingegaard are due to cross swords at the Itzulia-Basque Country and the Critérium du Dauphiné this spring. There is also a chance that both riders opt to do the Vuelta a España, where they shared a podium alongside Sepp Kuss (Visma-Race A Bike) last September, but that has yet to be decided.
In the podcast, Zeeman offered a positive vision of his team’s runaway success in the 2023 season, where they took headline victories at the Giro with Roglic, the Tour – for a second time – with Vingegaard and the Vuelta a España with Sepp Kuss. But he also emphasised the importance of the collective winning culture rather than focussing overly on individuals to ensure that the team maintained its hit rate.
“When people write about sports, it is logically about the athletes themselves and sometimes about the trainers and coaches. But it is never about the companies that have become successful,” he pointed out. “For example, firing Erik ten Hag now won’t change anything at Manchester United.”
Zeeman recognised that teams that were “underdogs” tended to garner more support than those that were winning, which explained a drop in the team’s popularity in the peloton. But he was equally insistent about the team’s ongoing determination to triumph in all kinds of races in 2024, with the Monuments one major goal this season again.
“We have not won one in a while, but we’ll keep pushing and I am sure we’ll be able to win. Without top riders like Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar, Wout would probably have won Flanders a few times.”
“Those two [Pogačar and Van der Poel] are so good and that makes winning a Classic more difficult. This generation of cyclists is extraordinarily good.”