Dumoulin saw his relatively breezy start to the Tour fade into chaos late in Thursday’s stage 6 with a 20-second time penalty and big losses following a late-race mechanical.
Dumoulin gave up 1:17 on the day, and sunk from seventh at 13 seconds adrift to 19th at 1:23 back, following a disastrous finale in the closing circuit at Mur de Bretagne, erasing what was a relatively smooth start to the Tour de France.
“We know that the first five days we were very lucky with it, but we also knew that it could hit us also,” Dumoulin said. “And today it did.”
Dumoulin clipped wheels with French star Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) in the bunch with about 5.5km to go. After a quick wheel change with Sunweb teammate Simon Geschke, Dumoulin went into time trial mode to try to chase back.
“I had a broken spoke with my front wheel. I needed to change and chase to the finish as hard as possible, but it was very difficult,” he said. “There are a lot of twists on the Tour and this time luck was not on our side.”
Dumoulin was seen on TV cameras pacing behind a team car, and the race jury saw it as well.
With the main pack barreling toward the second and final run up the Mur de Bretagne, Dumoulin was bleeding time even as teammates such as Chad Haga tried to tow him back.
“I hit the back wheel of [Romain] Bardet when there was the movement in the peloton and I couldn’t avoid it anymore, and that’s it,” Dumoulin said. “And I lost time.”
Even with the help of his Sunweb team, he crossed the line 46th at 53 seconds back.
The jury later penalized Dumoulin 20 seconds for drafting and the Dutchman ended up losing 1:17 on the stage.
“It’s disappointment of course,” Dumoulin said. “I would have liked to be in better position in the GC but that’s how it is.”
And so ended Dumoulin’s dream Tour opening.
With all the pre-Tour hype on Chris Froome and the drama around Team Sky, the Sunweb star was floating through the first week of the Tour pretty much off the radar. Dumoulin avoided troubles that saw rivals Froome, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) lose time. Sunweb posted a great ride Monday in the team time trial, and Dumoulin was sitting pretty just 13 seconds off yellow.
The wheels started to come off the cart Wednesday when sprinter Michael Matthews pulled out with a stomach virus, leaving the team with just seven riders.
And Thursday, Dumoulin was looking good until less than 6km to go. No one’s sure exactly what happened, but Dumoulin’s front spokes were ripped out by the wheel of another rider.
“It was a really chaotic run-in, and someone took out his spokes in his front wheel,” said Sunweb’s Chad Haga. “It was chaos and we dropped back to try to get him as close to the front group as possible.”
In the frenetic chase to the line, there were bikes and cars everywhere. Riders were getting dropped or were sitting up as the pack surged toward the finish line.
Sunweb’s Laurens Ten Dam, Haga, and Nikias Arndt got into TTT mode. Soren Kragh Andersen, who is leading the best young rider’s category, sat up on the final climb on the Mur to help give Dumoulin a tow. The young Dane saw his gap to Colombian Egan Bernal shrank from 1:08 to 27 seconds, but it was all hands on deck for Dumoulin.
“There is a sense of urgency, but Tom is not panicked,” Haga said. “We have to do what we can as fast as we can. It is just chaos. There are dropped riders, and you’re trying to weave around them without losing speed. It’s not what you want to be doing at that point.”
And then there were the cars. Dumoulin snuck in behind of the Sunweb team cars and was clearly spotted pacing behind it as he tried to chase back. The TV cameras caught and the UCI’s new video jury spotted it.
The penalty was quick and to the point: a 50 Swiss franc fine and a 20-second time penalty for “following too long behind the team car.” Dumoulin can afford the fine, but the time penalty hurt even more.
Dumoulin was one of the few pre-race favorites who’s been able to avoid setbacks in the opening six stages. Only Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Bob Jungels (Quick-Step) enjoyed Dumoulin’s crash-free opening coupled with a strong team time trial performance.
In just a few kilometers, all that was lost.
“We’ve had a great race so far. I guess most of the GC riders have lost that time one way or another,” Haga said. “It would be great to have that advantage. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Late on Thursday, Sunweb’s Luke Roberts issued a brief statement on the incident:
“After an unexpected move in the bunch Tom’s front wheel touched Bardet’s bike and he needed to change his wheel.
“The rules have been applied and we won’t protest, we just need to accept the penalty.
“The UCI needs to be sure that the rules are applied.”