Tom Dumoulin shouldn’t be sitting at Giant-Alpecin’s rest-day press conference with the Vuelta a España’s red jersey on his shoulders, staring down the barrel at one of the most difficult grand tour stages in the last decade, with a half dozen of the world’s best grand tour riders nipping at his heels.
But here he is, resplendent in red.
After a week that featured four climbing finishes, a week that should have sent the six-foot-one, 160-pound time trialist tumbling down the GC, Dumoulin’s 57-second gap over Andorran local Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) is still intact. He has 1:13 over Fabio Aru (Astana), and 1:17 over Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome (Sky).
“If someone would have told me two weeks ago that I would win a stage with an uphill finish and have the leader’s jersey on the first rest day, I would have said he was insane,” Dumoulin said.
So would we, Tom. But, like many great time trialists before him, from Miguel Indurain to Bradley Wiggins, Dumoulin is proving himself far more than a one-trick pony. He has the power, that much is clear. When big watts are paired with an increasingly slim build, even a tall man can go uphill fast.
The Butterfly of Maastricht, a nickname gained in his junior years and one he doesn’t particularly like, will be flapping hard on Wednesday. On paper, stage 11 is one of the most difficult grand tour stages in recent memory, only beaten back from that chilling title by stage 15 of the 2011 Giro d’Italia, which took the winner, Mikel Nieve, nearly eight hours and climbed well over 5,000 meters. The stage will tackle five massive peaks, and finish atop the Alto els Cortals d’Encamp at 2,100 meters (6,900 feet).
Can Dumoulin hang on? He doesn’t know. But two weeks ago, he didn’t know he’d be in the fight at all.
“Tomorrow we will have the hardest stage of this Vuelta, and at the finish we will know more,” Dumoulin said. “Normally I would say that it is too much for me, but stage 9 was also not typical, so we will see.”
It will be a long day for his Giant-Alpecin teammates, who will need to control the peloton as best they can over the first four peaks. Dumoulin still has all eight of his teammates, including American Lawson Craddock, to pull at the front.
“We showed yesterday and the days before yesterday that we have a strong team that takes responsibility as well, and we can be proud of that,” Dumoulin said. “We will fight for it and go full gas to the finish.”