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When the pink confetti cannons fired in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo last May, Tom Dumoulin became the first Dutchman to win the Giro d’Italia. Dumoulin defied the odds — as well as the stacked field containing previous Giro winners Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali — to take a commanding victory. Now, he faces a challenge much more daunting: to return as a defending champion, and defeat four-time Tour champ Chris Froome.
VeloNews sat down with Dumoulin at the Cosmo Hotel Palace in Milan, the night before Milano-Sanremo, to discuss his upcoming challenge. Dumoulin’s preparation for the Giro was hardly ideal. He suffered three mechanical calamities at the Abu Dhabi Tour in February, and then crashed out of Tirreno-Adriatico in March. [related title=”More Giro d’Italia news” align=”left” tag=”Giro-d’Italia”]
Still, Dumoulin maintained a confidence and pragmatic perspective toward the Giro. He understands the world has changed around him and promises that his approach is the same regardless of his 2017 title or Froome’s presence in 2018. And he is content in his decision to defend his Giro title against Froome, rather than challenge for the Tour de France victory in July.
VeloNews: What happened after your Tirreno-Adriatico crash?
Tom Dumoulin: I had my down days at home; I didn’t ride my bike for three days. I needed that physically and mentally. I was pretty broken. I think I was in the wrong mindset on my bike. I couldn’t really handle all the bad luck that was coming at me. Eventually, when I had my second crash, everything hurt, and I thought this doesn’t make sense anymore. Then Laurens Ten Dam called me; he said I’m in the south, near Maastricht, let’s go for a ride. I went with him and Bram Tankink into the Ardennes for five hours. I’m now again looking forward.
VN: What were the bike problems that led to your bad time trial in Abu Dhabi?
TD: That was also the difficulty in the last few weeks and month. There were problems with the mechanical stuff, all out of my control, and that gives you much insecurity. You want to have it all in control. That was not the case, and it made it difficult. I let the team know I wasn’t happy, there were things that went wrong, but now it’s out of my control. Why make myself crazy with it? I said what was not going right, and that’s all I could do. I can’t hire my own mechanics. Our team doesn’t take mechanics, like Alberto Contador had his, because that creates an imbalance with a group A and group B. That creates problems. That’s the strength in Team Sunweb — we are all together, we enjoy hanging out, dining together. There are many teams who don’t even have dinner together. That’s so weird to me.
VN: How are you mentally working through these problems?
TD: I also crashed in Abu Dhabi. My wounds had just healed, then I crashed on the same side again. Of course, it’s weighing on me; it hasn’t been the easiest start to the season. I knew I had good shape coming out of the winter and I wanted to show it. You only put more pressure on yourself after a crash — you are in the next race and you want it to work out, but then bad luck happens again. Or you get sick before the race. It’s all mentally quite demanding. I made it pretty difficult on myself to expect so much out of it.
VN: Are you worried that these problems may have impacted your Giro preparation?
TD: I didn’t get the results I wanted. I wanted the results already. I think it was possible with the shape I had, but it didn’t work out. I don’t need to test myself; I know what I can do. I tested myself for the past 10 years. I know what I can do in a TT; I don’t need that confirmation. I know what I can do on a mountaintop finish. I know what I can do.
VN: Are you trying to keep your one-day race skills sharp for the future?
TD: I would like to. It hasn’t worked out so far. I had a really good day in Richmond in the 2015 worlds — I almost got a medal. And in [Milano-Sanremo] in 2017. I can’t put my finger on it, what I have to do to be good at a classic. Sometimes I prepare really well, and then suddenly I suck in a one-day race. It also happens the other way around. In Richmond, I was feeling terrible after the Vuelta and in the worlds TT. Then suddenly, in the final of the road race, I was flying. I really like doing the races, though; it’s good for the general development of a rider. It helps with positioning. In a grand tour, after a week the GC is made up, you have your position and it doesn’t change. A classic is much more of a real bike race than a grand tour.
VN: Did you think early in 2015 that you’d be one of the grand tour stars three years later?
TD: No. I did really well in the Vuelta, but that was really surprising. After, I thought, now I could possibly aim for a grand tour success in the future, but before that, definitely not.
VN: Are you already thinking about the Giro d’Italia?
TD: I’m not thinking about the Giro every day. I also don’t know if you were to ask me what stages are important in the first week. I know there’s [Sicily’s Mount] Etna and the TT in Jerusalem.
VN: The time trial will be important for you as world champ?
TD: That’s going to be super special. I really loved it in Abu Dhabi and I hope for better luck in Jerusalem. I went into the Giro last year with the mindset [of] we’ll see what happens. I am just going to ride my bike for three weeks and enjoy it as much as possible — not really think what is coming ahead and how this or that will make me feel, just living day by day. I’m going to try to do that again this year. It won’t help to think every day about the Giro every minute.
VN: Many think you are the one to take on Chris Froome in the Giro, but also in the Tour. What do you think?
TD: I don’t know if I will be challenging Froome; I don’t know if he’ll be there. This year, the perfect blue-sky scenario would be also to do the Tour de France after the Giro, but we’ll decide after the Giro what to do. But in the coming years, I don’t know, I can’t say anything. I can’t say I’m going to be challenging Froome or challenging for the Tour de France every year. I don’t know. I definitely want to try to go for the Tour win one day. Maybe it’s already this year, or in the next few years. I definitely want to give it a good shot, but I’m not thinking how cool it would be.
VN: You spoke out against Froome. Would it have been better to have stayed quiet?
TD: I tried that, but it was drawn out of me. I never gave an opinion about his case, just about him being in Tirreno-Adriatico. I just said as an MPCC team, I wouldn’t be in Tirreno if it was me.
VN: Without the MPCC, would you race if you were in his shoes?
TD: If I knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong, then why would I not race? But I think it’s a good thing we are in the MPCC so I can happily follow that advice not to race.
So I would not be pissed about that, even if I knew that I didn’t do anything wrong. I think a positive [test result] is a positive, whether you like it or not. Then later on, maybe there’s a good explanation for that. But if I was positive, I’d be happy to not race. I like those clear guidelines.
VN: Is it hard to manage your power-to-weight ratio as a big guy?
TD: It’s also hard for a skinny guy like Warren Barguil, who’s naturally skinnier than me. He has a different body type. For every rider, it’s difficult to maintain. It’s also difficult for me to keep that ratio.
VN: After the Giro emergency bathroom break, are your stomach problems resolved?
TD: I hope so. We did some tests this winter, but there wasn’t a really clear answer what the problem was. You have to know that in a grand tour you do six hours almost every day — all that physical work, and eating about 7,000 to 8,000 calories every day. No one’s body is meant to process that amount every day with the physical stress. If you don’t have your diet correct, it can give you problems, and that’s probably what happened to me.
VN: Have you struggled with these issues at other times in your career?
TD: Yeah, I struggled a few times with it. The day before I won the mountain stage to Andorra in the 2016 Tour, I went in a parked camper and took a sh—t. My body has a problem handling all the food intake together with the physical load. What can I do? I can only watch my diet. I left some things out. Added some things into my diet. Now, it’s going much better. Until now it’s been good. I’ve done a lot of tests to see if there was enough blood going to my intestines during exercise — they thought that was the problem. It was slightly less than what was wanted, but not that bad. It can all add up, though.
VN: How did the toilet stop impact your status as a rider?
TD: Eventually it’s pretty cool to tell my grandchildren. I’m happy that it eventually didn’t cost me the Giro victory. Now, looking back, it only made the victory even sweeter. I know that I learned a lot of lessons from that day. Even with that, I kept on fighting and won the Giro afterwards. That was a lesson, and I take that ahead to the next races.
VN: How worried are you about stages like Zoncolan and Finestre?
TD: I don’t fear any stage. I fear, for example, in Tirreno where I was sick heading into the race. I felt fear ahead of some of those stages that I’d lose time or that they would hurt me.
That’s not a good mindset. I’m going into the Giro without any fear.
VN: Will you preview the climbs?
TD: I know Froome did so; he did Finestre. Their team camp was nearby there before the Vuelta. The Zoncolan too? I don’t need to see them. I don’t do recon; it takes a lot of time. It would be nice to see them, but I would rather spend time with my family. That also helps, being with my family.
VN: How do you conquer Team Sky and Froome?
TD: If Froome is going to be there, I hope to gain a little on him in the time trial, then he has to attack me on the climbs, then we’ll see. And then it’s up to him to attack, and up to me to follow. That would be a good scenario for me.
VN: Team Sky has the biggest budget in the peloton. Does that give it an unfair advantage?
TD: We don’t have a Team Sky budget. We don’t have the budget of Team BMC Racing. We will always have a team that is, on paper, not as physically strong as them, but we can make that up by being smarter and helping each other out more than any other team. That needs to be our strength. If you see our lineup for the Giro, it’s going to be pretty good.
VN: Is the team stronger than it was in 2018?
TD: Yes, but if you saw Nairo Quintana in the last week of the Giro, he also had no one around him. They complain about Sunweb, “Your team was nowhere,” but where were Quintana’s teammates? He only had Amador after the first climb on a stage like Monte Grappa. It’s just difficult to take control in a race like that, and only Team Sky has been able to really control a race in that way.
VN: Do you believe the Giro/Tour double is a realistic goal?
TD: I don’t want to talk about a double because right now it’s just a single — just the Giro and then we’ll see. I’ve never done two grand tours in a year, not even the Giro and the Vuelta, so I don’t have any idea. I don’t know. Last year, after the Giro, I felt horrible and really bad. I could not see myself doing the Tour after that.
VN: What is your opinion of the Giro’s start in Israel?
TD: I’m looking forward to it. I’ve always wanted to go to the country — there is so much history there. Like with the Chris Froome story, I don’t know the details between Israel and Palestine, I just want to go there and race there. I think sport should be separate from politics. That should be the ideal scenario. But I don’t want to go if there are problems. I want a plan B. I’m not opposed to going to other countries; I think it’s good for the grand tours.