These days, the cobbled Classics seem to be following an unnervingly straightforward formula. Of the 175 riders who race around the Flemish Ardennes all day, in the end, a rider from Jumbo-Visma always wins.
After Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the E3 Saxo Classic and Gent-Wevelgem, the Dutch squad notched up their fifth cobbled win of the year at Dwars door Vlaanderen, as Christophe Laporte delivered an almost matter-of-fact attack 4km outside Waregem to solo to victory.
For much of the afternoon, the shortest cobbled Classic had danced to its traditionally brisk beat. The decisive eight-man move waltzed clear on the Knokteberg with 54km to go, with Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) producing a virtuoso display to take third his debut on this terrain and early escapee Oier Lazkano (Movistar) improvising his way to second.
When the music stopped, however, Jumbo-Visma, as ever, were seated comfortably in first place, with Tiesj Benoot helping to keep time in the winning break before his teammate Laporte stepped forward to deliver the grand finale.
Despite the depth of the breakaway, which also contained the Groupama-FDJ pairing of Stefan Küng and Valentin Madouas, another Jumbo-Visma victory felt somehow inevitable as the afternoon drew on. The only question appeared to be how they would go about it.
At Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, Laporte was gifted victory by his teammate Wout van Aert after their two-up break. Here, the Frenchman reached out and seized it for himself, opting to surge clear with 4km remaining rather than wait for a sprint where he would have been the favourite in any case.
“If I didn’t go alone, maybe another move would have gone,” Laporte explained when he took a seat in the press room afterwards. “I could have waited, but I think the other guys didn’t want to come with me to the sprint. I knew I can do also a good effort with 2 or 3k to go, I did it already in the past, so it was a good move in the end.”
Laporte pledges to support Wout van Aert in Tour of Flanders
In recent times, every Jumbo-Visma move seems to be a good one, everything they try seems to come off. Like in last year’s Tour de France, when they took six stage wins as well as the final overall victory and the green jersey, the team appears to have forgotten how to lose.
“It’s a nice feeling, for sure,” Laporte said. “But when you are on the bike you are never sure of what you will do. You cannot say, ‘I will attack and there will only be a few guys on the wheel’. We just have a plan, and we try to do something. For the moment, that works quite well. We know we are in good shape, and we have a lot of good riders for these races. If we do a good job with these guys, we can fight for the win.”
Dylan van Baarle and Tiesj Benoot split the honours on Opening Weekend, Van Aert took the spoils at the E3 Saxo Classic, and then on Sunday, Laporte emulated Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Philippe Gaumont by becoming only the fourth Frenchman to win Gent-Wevelgem. Three days later, he has added another Classic to a palmarès that has been garlanded considerably since he joined Jumbo-Visma at the start of 2022.
“The team put me in the right place to get to my best level and I’m grateful to them for that,” said Laporte, who had won often during his eight years at Cofidis – 21 wins in total – but never at this rarefied level.
“We’re maybe in our comfort zone in France. There aren’t lots of French riders who speak English like I did before arriving at Jumbo, I think you need a certain amount of maturity to do that.
“But racing abroad was something I always wanted to do since I turned pro. I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but it’s different. I learned a lot at Cofidis, and now I’m learning enormously at Jumbo. It’s another level: one of the best teams in the world, if not the best.”
While Laporte’s standing in the peloton has risen several notches since he began donning the black and yellow, it remains to be seen if his place within the team’s firmament of galacticos will change following his victories this week. Although Jumbo-Visma will start the Tour of Flanders with four or perhaps even five potential winners, some co-leaders are clearly more equal than others.
Van Aert, who sat out Dwars door Vlaanderen, is the team’s obvious focal point on Sunday, where he starts as a favourite alongside Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). Laporte knows his role, at the start at least, will be to help tip the balance of that three-way tussle in Van Aert’s favour.
“Obviously, you always dream of these races, but I think a race like Paris-Roubaix suits me better than the Tour of Flanders,” Laporte said. “I can play a bit at the Tour of Flanders, but I know that riding à la pédale with the best will be hard given the repeated climbs.
“Of course, I’m at the service of all the team. When you start a race with Jumbo-Visma, there are opportunities for all the riders, it’s never all just for one rider. But Sunday is a very difficult race, and Wout is the strongest rider we have. If I can help him win, I’ll be more than happy.”