French climber Warren Barguil (Sunweb) has the King of the Mountain classification sewn-up while versatile sprinter Michael Matthews (Sunweb) is poised to join an elite club of Australians with a maillot vert. The pair between them have also won four stages of the 104th edition, with Matthews an outside favourite for line honours on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
“I think the biggest favourite for a finish like this is [Andre] Greipel, but behind that is Michael, [Edvald] Boasson Hagen and [Alexander] Kristoff,” Visbeek said of Sunday’s famed finale.
“We still have a good lead-out here, we still have all the nine guys, and some of them in the past have delivered [former team sprinter] Marcel [Kittel] to stage victory in Paris. I think we should be able to put Michael in a good position, and then it’s possible.”
Sunweb, in its previous incarnations, is familiar with success at the Tour, it blooded Kittel (Quck-Step Floors) as well as John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), but Visbeek claims its run this season wasn’t something one could have imagined from the outset.
“I think it would have been pretty arrogant to say that, I think we have been riding above our level,” Visbeek said. “We knew that a green jersey or a polka dot jersey was an opportunity and it was possible. A lot had to go our way, but both with Warren in his role chasing mountain stage victories and with Michael, who we thought was on a really high level, would be challenges.”
For Matthews, in his first season with the squad, those challenges included syncing quickly with new teammates, crossing mountain passes to collect intermediate primes former points classification leader Kittel could not. It also included turning emotions, which at least in one instance got the better of him, into focus, especially when his prolific German rival was so dominant in bunch sprints.
For the team, it meant balancing dual goals with a climber and sprinter that is rarely done now at the Tour with so much at stake.
“I think the fundamental [thing] is a lot of hard work, we prepared really well,” Visbeek said. “We of course had to dial-in Michael in the sprint leads-outs, which was not easy for us, I mean, we missed out on quite some good lead-outs. But that means also you have meetings, you do evaluations, you talk with the guys, you go over the plan and sometimes change details in the plan you have.
“For Warren, it was a straight forward plan – win a mountain stage,” he continued. “To win a mountain stage he had to be in the break. We knew, we prepared him in a way that he needs to be able - for two or three days in a row - to go in a break. He was mentally prepared for that and I think that role fitted him well. Maybe also it made it, for him, a little easier that he didn’t have the GC pressure and could go in a little bit more relaxed, not focused on just following the GC contenders but having more freedom.”
Barguil, like Giro d’Italia champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), is being groomed as a Grand Tour title contender, so how Sunweb works the dynamic with Matthews and others in future remains to be seen.
“We have a group of very good riders – we have Michael, we have Warren, Tom Dumoulin, Wilco Kelderman and new guys coming up,” Visbeek said. “We look at the course and who has the best chance to win. We will have to look at the opportunities and from there make a decision on who has the best chances.”
In any case, they played it right this year.