Three years ago, Bob Jungels announced himself as a giant of cycling with a classy win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But since that 2018 La Doyenne win, the Luxembourgeois hasn’t established himself as firmly among the sport’s glitterati as many would have expected. Leaving aside his national championships, Jungels’ only victory in the past two seasons was at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in March 2019 (which, of course, is no mean feat).
In some ways, Jungels may have suffered because of his versatility. He can TT; he gets over the punchy climbs; he holds his own on both the cobbles and the flat; and he has twice finished in the top 10 at the Giro d’Italia. Directeurs sportifs – and the rider himself – seem to have struggled with narrowing down his focus and haven’t avoided spreading his vast resources too thinly. After all, where is it best to use a man who can do nearly everything?
There’s also the sense that he gradually fell down the pecking order at Deceuninck-Quick Step, which may have contributed to the team deploying him as something of a Swiss army knife in recent seasons. DQS have an option for pretty much every parcours and Jungels may have simply slipped between the cracks. In a team stacked full of the sport’s best riders, there’s no shame in being the Plan B and it says a lot about Jungels that Patrick Lefevere & co were so reluctant to let him seek pastures new in 2021.
Hopefully, Vincent Lavenu, the boss of his new team, AG2R-Citroen, can identify the strongest of Jungels’ strengths and pick the right targets for him. Where exactly that will be, we’ll have to wait and see, but it appears Lavenu is hedging his bets to some extent.
“He [Jungels] will be one of the leaders of our team, in the classics, but also in stage races,” said Lavenu after the transfer announcement in August. “Bob has already finished twice in the top 10 of the Giro d’Italia, so we will assist him with our experience in this area and he will be supported by young climbers.”
Does that indicate a year, or a substantial part of a year, in the three-weekers for Jungels? From KONM’s point of view, it would be a little disappointing to see him targeting one or more of the grand tours. There’s no question he would be a superb asset as part of a team going out to hunt stages and he may even be able to hang in there for another 10th-15th place. Only a fool would bet against him taking a win but is that really the best application of his talents?
For a team manager aiming to please sponsors, the answer to that is probably a very firm “yes”. But for those who’d prefer to see Jungels maximising his capabilities in Flanders, the Ardennes and northern France, the response would be more along the lines of an “er, I dunno, maybe?”.
From a purely personal standpoint, KONM would peak Jungels for spring and autumn and completely ignore the grand tours, but that’s an idealism not based in the reality of team-financing and straightforward clout-chasing.
Grand tours matter for teams, riders and fans. It’s possible that one of the reasons Jungels pitched up at AG2R in the first place is so he could be unshackled in the 21-dayers. At DQS, he was never going to be granted that freedom.
Still, we hope to see him given a decent shot in spring without having to obsess too much about a Giro/Tour in May/July. If a grand tour stage-hunt is absolutely necessary, perhaps let Jungels loose on the Vuelta after a summer rebuild.
This piece is an extract from KONM’s 2021 AG2R-Citroen preview.