After riding to second in last year’s Tour and second in his pink jersey defense at the Giro d’Italia, the Sunweb captain seemed poised to challenge the Sky machine in the 2019 Tour de France. Dumoulin won the Giro in 2017 and put up a brave fight against Sky’s Chris Froome last May.
Going all-in for the Tour would have been the next natural step.
Or so it seemed.
Yet when the Tour unveiled a route heavy on climbs and short on time trials, former TT world champ Dumoulin and the Sunweb brain trust had to make a tough call.
“The plan was to focus on the Tour de France this year, but when the routes came out, the Giro was just perfect for Tom,” said Sunweb sport director Luke Roberts. “It was too good to pass up.”
Dumoulin’s decision was viewed as a disappointment in some quarters. Many believe that the Dutchman is the singular rider who has the horsepower to crack the Sky code.
In fact, Sunweb and Dumoulin went into the off-season last fall fully expecting to put the Tour at the center of their calendar.
“The idea was to do the Tour this year,” Roberts said. “He’s won the Giro, so yeah, that was the idea. One day he’ll go for it [the Tour] with a better course for him.”
Plans changed when the routes for each grand tour were revealed this fall. First, the Tour came out with a parcours that features only one individual time trial at a paltry 27km on the hills around Pau. That’s hardly the distance or the course that would tip the scales in Dumoulin’s favor.
And second, the Tour route is stacked with climbing stages, including two short and explosive stages that don’t suit Dumoulin’s more steady diesel engine. There are other longer mountain stages over higher terrain that could also prove a steep challenge without a time trial to balance things out.
The Giro, meanwhile, opens and closes with short time trials, and features a mid-race 34.7km race of truth on a very challenging course in San Marino. All three give ballast against the climb-centric dynamics of the Giro, proving a more balanced and favorable route for Dumoulin.
“When it’s a parcours like that, you have to go for what suits you,” Roberts said. “You can’t pass that up.”
Sunweb agreed that it was better for Dumoulin to go to the Giro with a real chance of victory, instead of racing a Tour that — on paper at least — was far from ideal for him.
That doesn’t mean that Dumoulin won’t race the Tour. Somewhat surprisingly, early last month, Dumoulin confirmed he would likely race both the Giro and Tour. Speaking during a team presentation, Dumoulin said he will take on the Tour if he’s feeling good coming out of the Giro.
Last year, an extra week of recovery between the Giro and Tour due to soccer’s World Cup meant that riders like Dumoulin and Chris Froome (Sky) felt a run at the Giro-Tour double was feasible.
Froome has backed away from a double attempt in 2019, and will not defend his Giro title in preference of a run at a fifth yellow jersey.
Dumoulin, meanwhile, seems up for the challenge, as do a surprising number of riders, including Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Mikel Landa (Movistar), who suffered a broken clavicle in his first race of the season in Spain over the weekend.
“This year, we’ll do the Giro first and then the Tour,” Roberts said. “It will be even harder than last year to do the Tour. That extra week was key to be able to recover. We’ll bring a team to protect him for the Giro.”
Someday, Dumoulin will see that perfect Tour course. He’s hoping it’s sooner than later. For now, at least, he’s heading back to a Dumoulin-friendly Giro with full intentions of winning another grand tour.