LA ROCHE-SUR-YON, France (VN) — With a team time trial looming in stage 3 of the Tour de France, the hectic finale of Saturday’s opening stage may prove to be the great equalizer of the race for most of the GC contenders. Many of the top yellow jersey hopefuls that are expected to thrive in TTT lost time in stage 1. Meanwhile, a number of notables likely to ship seconds in stage 3 came out ahead in the opener.
The biggest exception: Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin.
The 27-year-old Dutchman came home safely with the lead group in stage 1, and that alone saw him pick up heaps of time on top overall contenders like Chris Froome (Sky), Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Unlike many of the other big GC winners in stage 1, however, Dumoulin rides for a squad expected to finish strong against the clock. Sunweb is, after all, the reigning world champion in the team time trial.
“There’s quite a few guys here with some experience. I expect that our team will be up there amongst the best,” Sunweb sports director Luke Roberts said on Sunday.
As of the start of stage 2, Dumoulin was sitting on the same time as dozens of others in 28th overall, with sprinter Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) currently in the yellow jersey courtesy of his opening stage victory. If all goes to plan, however, Dumoulin could very likely be near the top of the general classification as of Monday night.
Dumoulin, Søren Kragh Andersen, and Michael Matthews all comprised part of the gold medalist TTT squad at Bergen worlds, and the likes of Chad Haga and Simon Geschke are no slouch in a team chrono either. What’s more, Sunweb has put some effort into preparing for the stage.
“We did a recon twice all together,” Dumoulin said. “It’s really fast. I think we have a good team for that.”
Roberts named Mitchelton-Scott, Sky, and BMC among Sunweb’s big rivals for stage 3, but in the GC department, each of those teams saw its leader lose time in stage 1. And whereas Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Drapac) were among the big beneficiaries in the opener, all three could see that advantage evaporate on Monday. When the dust settles, Dumoulin could be sitting pretty long before the race even hits the high mountains.
He may need all the help he can get before the race gets to the Alps on stage 10, considering who he’ll be up against and his specific skillset. Dumoulin is a strong climber, but he is no Froome or Quintana.
As such, the team won’t be pulling off the gas pedal in the mostly flat first stretch of stages, no matter how things play out.
“With the team we have here, we want to race aggressive in the first nine days. We have the riders to do it,” Roberts said. “We have classics specialists. We have strong riders here. Tom’s not afraid of small roads, crosswinds, being born and raised in Holland. Also, he’s not afraid of cobblestones. We have nothing to fear in these first nine days, nothing to lose.”
Dumoulin said Sunday that he wasn’t surprised by the chaos the opening week has already seen — and that more may be in the works.
“I wasn’t expecting any different,” he said of Saturday’s finale. “I think my expectations were already pretty high and it lived up to that.”
Indeed, Dumoulin was wary of even talking about the team time trial before finishing stage 2, flat as it may be.
Still, it’s hard not to expect good things from the big Dutch engine, and not to see him as the prospective big winner of the first few days of the race.
With a full Giro d’Italia in his legs — Dumoulin finished second overall there this May — and a parcours more suited to the climbers than the chrono types, this Tour was always going to be a challenge for Dumoulin. Despite his overall victory at the Giro in 2017 and his strong performance there this time around, he was seen more as an outsider for this Tour. The likes of Froome, Quintana, Porte, and Nibali received more pre-race hype.
A stellar start to the race could change the conversation, though, and with one stage in the books, Dumoulin is quietly on his way to pulling that off.