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Dumoulin recognizes added pressure as reigning Giro champ

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) recognizes it is not easy being a star. He became the first Dutchman ever to win the Giro d’Italia in 2017 and returns next week to defend his title.

Dumoulin’s early season contained many hiccups, with his best individual result being 12th in the Abu Dhabi Tour time trial after suffering shifting problems.

“A big win like that gives you wings, but it also ups the pressure,” Dumoulin told La Gazzetta dello Sport after placing 15th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège last Sunday.

“In the first races this 2018 season, I was not calm, I didn’t ride with pleasure, just looking for the results. Maybe I worked too hard over the winter. And then, I’ve truly had many mechanical problems.”

Dumoulin is back from an altitude training camp at Sierra Nevada and has had time to reflect on his lead-up to the Giro d’Italia, which starts May 4 in Jerusalem.

The Liège-Bastogne-Liège result indicated he is on the right path after a bumpy road thus far in 2018. He placed 15th working for teammate Sam Oomen, who came in 12th and will help Dumoulin in the Giro. Dumoulin said he lacked the needed punch, which he had in 2017, but he is feeling better than he did a year ago before the Giro.

It has been a rough start to 2018. In the Abu Dhabi Tour, he debuted in the rainbow jersey of world time trial champion but a shifting problem saw him lose time. Frustrated and with another wheel issue, he threw his bike to the side of the road in the race’s mountain stage.

In March’s Tirreno-Adriatico, he crashed during the queen stage and abandoned. He was unable to test himself against the top stars in the summit finish or race the final time trial.

He had a better spring in 2017 with a third-place in the Abu Dhabi Tour and a sixth in Tirreno-Adriatico. From there, he took on Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) to win the Giro d’Italia.

“My feelings are pretty much the same as last year and last year, I didn’t go so badly at the Giro!” he laughed.

“For now I want to think of the first pink jersey. The jersey in Jerusalem will be a historic event. It’s a unique occasion I don’t want to let slip by.”

Dumoulin’s top rival should be Chris Froome (Sky). The Brit and four-time Tour de France victor uses a lethal combination of time trialing and climbing to beat his rivals in stage races. Like Dumoulin, though, his early season has lacked wins.

The plan was to use Liège-Bastogne-Liège to be sharp for the Giro’s 9.7-kilometer opening time trial and for Froome in Jerusalem, Dumoulin explained. If he wanted to win the one-day Belgian race, he would have returned from Sierra Nevada sooner. Instead, he came back a few days before Liège, raced it, and resumed his training with the pink jersey and an early advantage in mind.

Besides Froome, Dumoulin faces Michael Woods (EF Education First–Drapac), Tour of the Alps winner Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Miguel Angel López (Astana), Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida), and Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates (both Mitchelton-Scott).

“Any race is difficult to win, and for sure a grand tour,” Dumoulin explained last month. “Froome is going to be difficult to beat. He’s proven to be the rider with the best GC results over the last years, so it’s definitely going to be hard to beat him. I hope to have some time on him in the time trials and then to defend what I have in the mountains.”

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