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Tour de France

Is Dumoulin the man to dethrone Froome?

After his stunning performance at the Giro d'Italia, is Tom Dumoulin the man to dethrone Chris Froome at the Tour de France?

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Tom Dumoulin stunned cycling’s hierarchy to win this year’s Giro d’Italia, besting the race’s favorites in the individual time trial and then climbing alongside them on the toughest peaks. He even endured cycling’s most famous “call of nature” at the base of the Stelvio during the race’s stage 16, a moment that almost spoiled everything.

Now, many in the cycling world believe Dumoulin is the new rival for Chris Froome, with the skill set that could defeat the British rider at the Tour de France.

“Among the new generation of GC riders, [Dumoulin] is at the top,” said BMC coach and former pro Marco Pinotti. “I think he will be one of the favorites for the Tour de France for the next five years. He has the physical skill, and mental skill.”

DUMOULIN WON A LIVELY and taut 100th edition of cycling’s most unpredictable grand tour. It was the most complete performance in a decade. The Dutchman beat back a fleet of the world’s best climbers with a mix of panache and confidence coupled with climbing finesse and a final-day time trial knock-out.

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Journalists often compared Dumoulin to time trial great Miguel Indurain, who won his first major grand tour at 27. There’s a sense within cycling’s pundits that Dumoulin is cycling’s next big rider.

“We already saw what he could do in 2015, and we knew that he could win a grand tour,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué, who directed Indurain in the 1990s. “He rode an impeccable Giro. He deserved the victory.”

Dumoulin’s path to the Giro’s maglia rosa and his steady rise to being the new GC man on the block has two narratives: first, his ascent from the depths of disappointment in the 2015 Vuelta a España to the height of success in the Giro some 20 months later. Second, how Dumoulin fended off a band of climbers in what was arguably the deepest Giro field in decades.

“I’m not the first time trialist who can do well in the mountains,” Dumoulin said. “Miguel Indurain is five steps ahead of me.”

Ask anyone about Dumoulin and they all agree he is a cool cat. He grew up in Maastricht, in the “hilly” part of the Netherlands (elevation 150 feet above sea level). At 6-foot-1 and 157 pounds, he is tall with wide shoulders, and he has found a way to become extremely aerodynamic and powerful simultaneously. He once wanted to become a doctor, but after scoring early successes on the bike, decided to go all-in with cycling. Dumoulin brings intelligence and curiosity to his racing.

“He is very funny and smart, but very competitive, too,” said American teammate Chad Haga. “I’ve seen how hard he worked for this Giro. We spent weeks together at altitude. Tom came here believing he could win.”

Dumoulin turned pro in 2012, and quickly made marks against the clock, winning the bronze medal behind Bradley Wiggins at the 2014 world championships. It was his break-out Vuelta in 2015 that saw Dumoulin’s grand tour potential come to the fore. Without truly targeting the race, he came within one mountain stage of winning the Netherlands’s first grand tour since 1980. It was only superior tactics by Astana that delivered the win to Fabio Aru on the penultimate stage.

“When he lost the Vuelta two years ago, it wasn’t because he wasn’t ready for it. It was because he got out-maneuvered by another team,” said Orica-Scott sport director Matt White. “Had there been anyone else in that valley, he would have won it. He’s been around a couple of years. He’s the man of the future for the grand tours.”

Despite the promising performance in the 2015 Vuelta, he turned all of his attention to honing his time-trial form for 2016. He had two major objectives: the time trials at the Tour de France and the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. He delivered two stage wins in France, including the stage 13 time trial, and won silver in Rio, ahead of Froome in bronze.

“Tom is used to performing under pressure,” said Sunweb sport director Aike Visbeek. “That Tour win had the entire nation watching him, even the king. So he doesn’t get nervous in big races anymore.”

Central to his Giro success was how Dumoulin changed his training over the winter — from one-off peaks targeting specific stage wins to racing and defending for three weeks. When the team saw the Giro’s parcours last winter, they knew it was an ideal next step in Dumoulin’s development. He spent most of his winter and spring camped at altitude in Spain.

“Tom lost weight, a few kilos, and went to training camps for weeks and weeks at Sierra Nevada and Tenerife,” Visbeek continued. “He came to the Giro ready to race.”

Dumoulin is a straight-talker, practical, and not afraid to speak his mind. Always keen to share his thoughts, Dumoulin even joked after his roadside issues on the Stelvio. On more than a few occasions during the Giro, he ruffled feathers during his grand tour coming-out party.

The most telling moments came following an intense defense at Ortisei deep in the Dolomites. He kicked off an old-school “he-said, she-said” polemic when he chided Vincenzo Nibali and Quintana for not helping to chase, haranguing them with, “I hope they lose their podium spots.” They might call him the “Butterfly of Maastricht,” but he clearly has a sting.

“He is a gentleman, but you have to be tough in the mind to be able to win a grand tour,” Visbeek explained. “When you have the jersey, you know they are going to attack you. He is learning that.”

DUMOULIN’S VICTORY WAS IMPORTANT on many levels. The statistics alone are impressive — the first Dutch rider to win the Giro; the first Dutch grand tour winner since Joop Zoetemelk in 1980; and only the third Dutch cyclist in history to win a grand tour.

“He is the next big GC rider,” White said. “I think the Tour de France suits him better than the Giro. At next year’s Tour, he will go into it as one of the favorites. He can match Froome in the time trials, and from what he’s shown at the Giro, staying with the best climbers in the world, he can match him there, too.”

Indeed, his victory seemed to harken the arrival of the first rider who could truly challenge Froome in the Tour on equal footing. While riders like Nibali and Quintana have proven pesky to Sky’s dominance, no one packs that elusive combination of time trial strength and climbing chops to take on Froome on equal terms. On top of that, Dumoulin’s gritty Giro victory only served to prove that he will not crack under pressure.

“When you are leading a grand tour, everybody will want to steal the jersey,” Pinotti said. “It’s a mental fight. He is really showing that he can handle this.”

Dumoulin also hails from cycling’s “new generation,” and neither he nor his team are tainted by the scandals that ripped the sport apart a generation ago.

[pullquote align=”right” attrib=”Marco Pinotti, BMC Racing coach”]”Among the new generation of GC riders, Tom is
at the top. I think he will be one of the favorites for the Tour de France for the next five years.”[/pullquote]

Dumoulin’s Giro confirmation certainly put him front and center on Team Sky’s radar. “I’ve been following him for a few years, and what he showed during this Giro, I saw it coming awhile now,” Sky principal Dave Brailsford told Dutch journalists. “He has the skil lset to win the Tour. Of course, we want to win a few more first.”

With Froome likely to have only another few years at the top level, some speculated that Sky might try to lure Dumoulin away from Sunweb. However, after winning the Giro, he re-signed with the Dutch Sunweb squad through 2021. The team aims to bring additional heft in the mountains and flats to support him for an assault on the Tour.

“We want to build a team around Tom,” Visbeek said. “He feels comfortable on this team. This is his home, and we are going to do everything we can to help him try to win the Tour.”

Dumoulin’s Tour attempt will have to wait at least until 2018. For the rest of this year, he’ll target the world time trial championship in Norway. A Froome-Dumoulin might have come at this summer’s Vuelta, but the Dutchman confirmed he won’t race the Spanish grand tour, while Froome will.

Dumoulin’s already done something that Froome never has: win the Giro d’Italia.

“Now I want to try to win the Tour de France,” Dumoulin said. A big smile creased his face in Milan. “I need to keep working and improving, but I believe I can do it.”

It’s becoming obvious that when Dumoulin sets his sights on something, he delivers. Cue up the hype machine: Froome vs. Dumoulin, coming soon to a Tour de France near you.