After 19 stages, Team Sunweb has tallied 14 top-ten finishes, including four stage wins, the polka dot and green jerseys. Not a bad haul for an outfit that understatedly named their squad for the Tour de France claiming they would “aim for stage wins”.
Comparatively, only QuickStep Floors, with five stages to Marcel Kittel can surpass Team Sunweb’s effort. The remaining stage wins have been spread across just nine other teams.
Highly visible, the German-registered team has been in everything and it comes hot on the heels of Tom Dumoulin’s 31-second, historic victory in the Giro d’Italia in May.
Team Sunweb’s catch-cry is ‘keep challenging’. All too often sporting teams get lost in their own marketing schtick, virtual invertebrates floundering for something to cling to that will separate them from their rivals in the battle for the mighty and oft-illusive dollar. Either they are incapable of living up to the catch-cry or, it’s a case of smoke and mirrors. Neither applies to Team Sunweb. They are the real deal.
As it stands, Team Sunweb sit at around the midway point of WorldTour budgets, estimated by l’Equipe at around €12.5M in 2016. The team finished 12th in the Tour teams classification and is 7th on the UCI ranking tables, making a mockery of those measurements. But all the money in the world does not guarantee team harmony, something the likes of Team Sky and BMC can attest to.
The strength in this team’s character has been evident throughout the Tour. Defeated by the narrowest of margins the day before, Warren Barguil claimed the first French win on Bastille Day since 2005. Barguil’s roommate, Michael Matthews meanwhile, fought his way into contention for the points classification, podium finishes and intermediate sprints and eventual stage wins catapulting the Australian into contention for the green jersey. Both riders and their teammates experienced frustration. Two performances in the spotlight, built on the collective resilience of the team.
Dumoulin was not favoured to win this year’s Giro. Instead, the focus was on Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Thibault Pinot (FDJ). In claiming the Maglia Rosa, the Dutchman proved he could deliver more than perhaps people had been willing to give him credit for in the past.
More than a solid time triallist. A great climber. Giving a reason for his teammates to fight with Dumoulin, for him and for the team. Many will point towards the moment on the queen stage when Dumoulin, race leader in pink, pulled off to the side of the road and empty his bowels – a moment where he lost over two minutes to his rivals. It could have unravelled his entire race, but it didn’t. Dumoulin fought his way through the rest of the stage in his own personal time trial.
What is becoming clear towards the end of this Tour de France is that Team Sunweb has two genuine general classification contenders moving forward in Barguil and Dumoulin. How the team handles this looming internal leadership battle will be telling but given the team seems devoid of the wrong sort of ego, one gets the feeling a Sky-style mutiny won’t be on the cards.
Michael Matthews denied team support he wanted at Orica-Scott, has it in spades and will be unlucky not to break through for his debut win at next year’s classics, the Australian has simply moved into another stratosphere this season. Team Sunweb, just over a decade since it entered the ProConti ranks seems to be on the verge of a golden age, a year on from their training accident horror.
Champions cannot be manufactured. It’s not just about breaking free when your back is against the wall. It’s the way you go about it. Simply put, we may be watching the best team in the world.