Vuelta a Espana

Dumoulin: ‘I didn’t know what to expect’

Tom Dumoulin finds himself with a chance to win his first-ever grand tour after a brilliant time trial and steady riding in mountains.

BURGOS, Spain (VN) — Dutchman Tom Dumoulin sits in the driver’s seat of the Vuelta a España after nearly three weeks, which included his second stage win Wednesday.

Giant-Alpecin’s captain won the 38.7-kilometer time trial stage in the Spain’s northwest. Doing so, he overtook the morning’s race leader, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), and moved into the lead by three seconds over Italian Fabio Aru (Astana).

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Dumoulin said in the red leader’s jersey behind the podium. “Before the time trial, I didn’t think about anything because that won’t make me better. I didn’t think about minutes or seconds, I just wanted to win. When I finished, I found out that I had Aru at three seconds — that’s very close, that’s going to be a hell of a fight in the coming days.”

Dumoulin, previously known for his time trialling (he was third in TT worlds in 2014), did not expect to fight for the overall when he came into the Vuelta. That happened gradually.

He rode with Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) to the top of stage 2 in the south. At the start of the second week, he won the small uphill finish to Cumbre del Sol ahead of Sky’s Chris Froome, the Tour de France champion.

The last days through Andorra and Asturias convinced him that he could go for the overall in a grand tour. His opportunity to win this Vuelta came in the time trial, his speciality. While his rivals wrestled with their time trial bikes, Dumoulin powered along like a turbo-diesel sedan on the roads around Burgos.

“I felt good today as you could see,” he said. “I already had a good feeling yesterday. I did a second recon of the course today with my DS, asked him to write down everything that I wanted to know in the radio during the stage. I was focused, I had good legs and mentally, I was in a really good place.”

The race turns to one of defense now as the Vuelta travels south toward Madrid. Dumoulin has three seconds on Aru and 1:15 on Rodríguez.

Thursday’s and Saturday’s stages could be the hardest test for Dumoulin, 24, as both finish with climbs to around 5,900 feet and descents to the finish line. Dumoulin has been able to stay with the best climbers or at least manage himself when dropped. If he does lose ground on the climbs, he could be able to make it up on the descent and pull off a surprise grand tour win.

“I’ve never fought for the classification before in a grand tour, this came by surprise,” he added. “I always felt good in grand tours, and always had my best form after a grand tour. That means I can handle hard days. I didn’t know it meant that I could recover well, but it turns out to be exactly that.”