VALENCE, France (VN) — Sunweb wants to avoid an ambush in the coming days to keep Tom Dumoulin within striking distance of the yellow jersey.
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“We know we have to stay concentrated these next days before the Pyrénées,” said Sunweb’s Simon Geschke. “You make one mistake, and Sky can make you pay. You can lose minutes if you let your guard down.”
Third overall at 1:50 back, Dumoulin emerged as the most dangerous rival to Team Sky following three solid days in the Alps. The 2017 Giro d’Italia champion is all but tied with Chris Froome on time (just 11 seconds back) and still within range of Geraint Thomas and the yellow jersey.
“I am happy where I am right now, and I hope to improve,” Dumoulin said Friday morning. “I am hoping for a bad day for Sky. We are going to go for it. At the moment, they [Sky] are all very strong.”
Despite an early setback and time penalty, Dumoulin has demonstrated he is all but equal to both Thomas and Froome in the mountains. And as the defending world time trial champion, Dumoulin will have an advantage on the penultimate stage time trial in France’s Basque Country. Everyone knows if there is one hiccup by Sky, Dumoulin is first in line to win.
Sunweb doesn’t want look that far ahead.
In fact, the team is well aware of the dangers of letting its guard down against Team Sky and their other rivals.
“If Sky have a chance, they will try something,” Geschke said. “We have to be ready for that. Maybe they do something funny. We always have to be on top of things.”
Sunweb is right to be wary. Dumoulin has had a few infamous episodes in his career when he’s been caught in a trap.
The first came in 2015 when he was the surprise leader of the Vuelta a España as he was developing his GC ambitions. Dumoulin was ambushed in the final mountain stage in the Vuelta and tumbled out the leader’s jersey to sixth in just one day to lose to Fabio Aru.
Last year in the Giro d’Italia, Dumoulin made what he called a “rookie mistake” when he was caught out when the peloton split in stage 19 and lost time the leader’s jersey to arch-rival Nairo Quintana (Movistar) by 38 seconds. Only a strong closing-day time trial won him the pink jersey in Milan.
And in his Giro defense this year, Team Sky pulled off the ultimate heist over the Colle delle Finestre in the Italian Alps when Chris Froome uncorked a long solo breakaway to snatch away the pink jersey from Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and foil Dumoulin, who was poised to take over the lead.
Sky sport director Nicolas Portal admitted that Dumoulin is their most dangerous direct rival, but shot down suggestions it will try to ambush Dumoulin in the coming stages across the Massif Central.
“Right now, Dumoulin is the most dangerous,” Portal said. “We have to keep focused on our race and not focus on only one bike racer. We also have to watch out for Bardet, Quintana, Landa, we cannot let them back into the race.”
Dumoulin would be a big threat in the Tour’s final time trial if things stay the same as they are after the Alps, and Sky knows it. Portal said they want to expand their leads and expects even more shakeups in the overall standings.
“Tom is the best on TT, Froomey is second best, and ‘G’ [Thomas] is very close,” Portal said. “We don’t know how much the mountains will take out on the time trialists. We don’t know if Tom will be tired. Maybe Dumoulin will smash the TT. I think the Pyrénées will see more changes.”
Sunweb’s Chad Haga said he’s never seen Dumoulin so focused. Avoiding a trap is key to the team’s dreams of yellow.
“Tom is totally motivated. He is encouraged how well the race is going so far,” Haga said. “He plays off that and builds his morale further.”