Best lead-out in the world, but he's going to the Tour with Roglic: what is Van Poppel's plan at BORA-hansgrohe? Cycling

Best lead-out in the world, but he's going to the Tour with Roglic: what is Van Poppel's plan at BORA-hansgrohe?

Best lead-out in the world, but he's going to the Tour with Roglic: what is Van Poppel's plan at BORA-hansgrohe?

Danny van Poppel has been proclaiming for almost two years now: he wants to be the best lead-out in the world. The Dutchman from BORA-hansgrohe seems to have earned that title after two seasons with the German team, but in 2024 he will be deployed on other fronts by his team again. What's the plan? went to sports director Rolf Aldag in Mallorca with those questions.

At the end of 2021, the Dutchman consciously made the switch from Intermarché-Circus-Wanty to BORA-hansgrohe, with the goal of developing as the lead-out for Sam Bennett. Van Poppel found himself a bit too all-round and noticed that he lacked pure speed, while the pressure of being a sprinter didn't suit him perfectly either. "I've always been a sprinter, but will now focus on the lead-out."

In Eschborn-Frankfurt, the Dutchman played a perfect role for Bennett in 2022, but the Irish sprinter didn't get a chance for the rest of the year. As a result, he was left out of the Tour de France, where Van Poppel was allowed to go as a sprinter and in support of team leader Aleksandr Vlasov. The Dutchman finished in the top ten four times and a few weeks after the Tour, he was also crucial in Fabio Jakobsen's European Championship title in Munich. Van Poppel quickly made a name for himself as a lead-out in this way.

One week later, the Vuelta a Espana started in Utrecht, with Van Poppel and Bennett. The Irishman won the bunch sprints in Utrecht and Breda after two perfect lead-outs by Van Poppel. The strong combination finally seemed to work. "Masterclass," Bennett judged about his Dutch teammate, but a few days later, he was already back home.

danny van poppel fabio jakobsen

However, the confidence was there again, and Van Poppel indicated towards 2023 that he would fully ride for Bennett. "I am a lead-out man, I focus one hundred percent on that. I'd rather win three stages in the UAE Tour with Sam than finish fifth in Kuurne," he said resolutely to before the season. At the first meeting in Argentina, it was immediately a success, but Bennett soon found himself struggling. He still competed for victories in the UAE Tour and Paris-Nice, but as the summer months approached, things started to falter again.

Van Poppel and Bennett: highs and lows, especially for the Irishman

In the Critérium du Dauphiné, Bennett could hardly get past the Dutchman, and this led BORA-hansgrohe to send Jordi Meeus as a sprinter to the Tour. Meanwhile, at the end of June, Van Poppel extended his contract until 2027 with the German team. "Danny has become a staple within our team. He is probably the best lead-out rider in the peloton. For us, he is also an important all-rounder and a leader. Many riders can benefit from his experience, and with him in the lead-out, every sprinter gets better," team boss Ralph Denk commented.

All of a sudden, that had to be done in that Tour with Meeus, who had never had a real lead-out before. "I just want to win, and I really believe that it's possible with Jordi too. We're going to try it now at the highest level right away, and who knows, it might work out... you never know. It only needs to happen once, and the Tour is already a success," Van Poppel said to this site at the Tour start in Bilbao. And so it happened: Meeus won the final stage in Paris.

Best lead-out in the world, but he's going to the Tour with Roglic: what is Van Poppel's plan at BORA-hansgrohe?

As the year progressed, the original duo of Bennett and Van Poppel – who came close to winning the Cyclassics Hamburg, finished third in the Deutschland Tour, and clinched a stage in the Tour of Britain – were split up. "It took me a while to mentally adjust, but the reason is simple: our sprinter isn't performing well. I really chose to become a lead-out, but it's disappointing that it's not quite working out. There's not much you can do about that, but next year we're getting a new sprinter, Sam Welsford," he explained at the Münsterland Giro to

Looking ahead to the 2024 season, BORA-hansgrohe presented their plans and Tour de France selection in Mallorca on Wednesday. Van Poppel was included, of course, but not Welsford. The Dutch rider is set to play a crucial role in the Tour team surrounding Primoz Roglic. "We need support on the flat stages, but also in the gravel stage," Aldag told us. "We're taking that stage very seriously; it's going to be incredibly unpredictable." Alongside Van Poppel, Nico Denz was also selected for the Tour team for this reason.

Van Poppel faces busy schedule in 2024

"With someone like Danny, Primoz doesn't have to worry too much about his positioning. That's important, as it helps keep his stress levels as low as possible," Aldag further explained. In other words, Van Poppel's lead-out skills will be utilized to guide Roglic through the Tour de France as effectively as possible. But was the man from Brabant happy with this role?

"Yes," says Aldag confidently. "We've developed a plan with Danny that allows him to showcase his abilities on multiple fronts. For the first half of the year, he's largely paired with Sam Welsford, who we believe is one of the fastest sprinters in the world. He'll do the Giro with Welsford, but in the more hilly stages, he'll also have opportunities to chase his own wins."

"In the classics, Danny will occasionally have the opportunity to ride for his own chances, but at the same time, we need to be careful not to overload him," Aldag explains. "We've had great eras with Mark Renshaw and Michael Mørkøv, and now Danny is the best lead-out in the world. We can obviously use those qualities very well if we want to win the Tour with Primoz. That's why we've chosen a balanced plan, with a healthy mix of races with Sam, Primoz, and for himself."

bora hansgrohe 2024

Aldag didn't mention Meeus, the man who won last year on the Champs-Elysées. What does he think about Van Poppel being paired with Welsford, who recently joined from DSM-Firmenich, instead of him? "The team really believes in Sam; they want to get the most out of him. It's more beneficial for the team to put Danny with Sam than with me," admits Meeus candidly. "If you feel you're the fastest and always win when you get a good lead-out, that's different. I'm realistic enough to know it wouldn't always be a success if I'm dropped off 200 meters from the finish."

"Sam relies more on a fully prepared sprint, while I can do more on my own. I've told the team that I'd like to have Danny with me, but I'm not the kind of rider who needs to be perfectly led out every time," says Meeus, who will also ride some classics alongside Van Poppel. "Welsford is more of a pure sprinter than I am. If we do sprints and we're both fresh, he might have an edge."

Down Under, we'll see how well the collaboration between Van Poppel and Welsford goes. In the preceding criterium, BORA-hansgrohe couldn't get the Aussie into a position to sprint. "It was a strange race, let's start with that. We rode all day, but other sprinters' teams didn't want to cooperate. That was frustrating," concluded team director Bernie Eisel at the first race of the busy season for Van Poppel.

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