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Cool, calm, and collected, Tom Dumoulin is...

Dumoulin’s GC instincts prove sharp in Giro stage 6

Confident, relaxed Tom Dumoulin finds a chance to bank more GC time, and he takes it, indicating his growing savvy as a stage racer.

ROCCARASO, Italy (VN) — Tom Dumoulin sat in pink nonchalance behind a press conference microphone and described the animal instinct that fed his attack in the final kilometers of Thursday’s stage. “You can’t explain this feeling,” he said. “When an animal has an instinct he just does, because he knows he has to do it like that. He doesn’t know why. He just does it. I guess it’s the same here.”

Even Dumoulin did not expect to be the aggressor on the Giro’s first mountaintop finish, a stair-stepping climb to Roccaraso. A day before, he said he simply wanted to avoid losing time. Yet he added to his bounty, bounding off a failed move from Vincenzo Nibali on the climb’s final pitch. He took seven seconds on Esteban Chavez; nine on Rigoberto Urán and Rafal Majka; 12 on Alejandro Valverde; 21 on Nibali and Mikel Landa. He now has almost a minute on most of his key rivals. Those are seconds that could prove crucial in the final week.

Patience. Moving at the right moments. That nonchalance, which indicates a lack of stress and pressure. All are proof that Dumoulin continues to mature as a general classification contender, on and off the bike. Though he maintains that he feels no burden to take the maglia rosa to Torino, this maturity makes it increasingly possible that he could do so anyway.

“I said yesterday, if I have the legs, and there is an opportunity, then I just take it,” he said after Thursday’s stage. “I did have the legs, and I just went for it. Maybe that’s going to cost me in the last week, but the seconds that I take now, I could also maybe use them in the last week.”

Dumoulin’s grand tour instincts are sharper than they were six months ago at the Vuelta a España. His attack on Thursday may not have been planned, but it was well-executed.

When Nibali went, chasing after his Astana teammate Jakob Fuglsang, Dumoulin was already isolated. But he was patient. Rather than charge after him, Giant – Alpecin’s leader allowed the teams with multiple riders — primarily Sky — to pull back the move. It set Dumoulin up to take time on both Nibali and Sky’s leader Landa.

“If [the other teams] let Nibali and Fuglsang take a lot of seconds, then they also lose,” Dumoulin said. “I didn’t have a team anymore, and you just have to gamble. When I lose they also lose. So I was hoping for them to help. They didn’t help me, they helped themselves.”

The lack of pressure works in his favor, too. This is already a successful Giro for Dumoulin and Giant – Alpecin. The pink jersey on home soil, a stage win — the team needs little else.

“I’m just here to enjoy myself. As long as I have this jersey I will try to defend it but also look for opportunities to take more time, when they don’t expect it and when I can surprise them.”

Dumoulin is confident, too; it’s visible in his press conferences and in the way he carries himself. It’s easy to forget he’s just 25.

“I know better what to do, I know what this jersey … It has its advantages and its disadvantages,” he said. “Last year in the Vuelta I had some trouble with the disadvantages.”

This year, he says he’s enjoying the leadership more. “I’m more confident, more relaxed. I think I know better how to direct the team into the direction that I like — how we ride in the bunch. Last year, it was all new to me, to be the team leader, and now I think I’m a quick learner. It’s paying off so far.”