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2019 did not go Tom Dumoulin’s way. Rather than challenging for grand tour success, the 29-year-old spent much of the year in hospitals, rehab clinics and full of uncertainty over his future.
Dumoulin abandoned the Giro d’Italia in early May after a heavy fall caused damage to tendons in his knee. He limped through the Criterium du Dauphine in June, not fully healed. He didn’t race at the top level again all year, and spent those six months re-evaluating his relationship with the bike and the racing world.
Going into 2020, Dumoulin’s knee is now fully healed, and the former Giro d’Italia champion has a newly-signed contract with Jumbo-Visma under his belt. As he enters a new stage in his career, Dumoulin “has the ambitious hunger to be a top cyclist again.”
Dumoulin spoke with Dutch website De Telegraaf Wednesday, and revealed a 2019 filled with both physical and mental struggles.
Dumoulin explained that despite a 2018 season that included second-places at the Giro, Tour, and World Championship time trial, he went into 2019 with Team Sunweb full of doubts and uncertainty.
“In spite of that good season, some questions remained unanswered and gnawed in 2018,” he said. “Am I going to do this for another ten years? Will this life make me happy? What goals do I want to set myself as a cyclist? How do I want to reach them? The good performance of 2018 did not answer me to those questions.”
Those questions were only answered with time away from the sport.
When Dumoulin crashed heavily in a rain-soaked stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia, a chainring bit into his knee, causing serious damage to the tendons within. He started the next stage, but soon abandoned. He spent the rest of the year in rehab and making failed attempts to return to racing.
“Only when I was forced to relax last summer did I have the time to analyze myself thoroughly,” he said.
“For months I was obliged by that injury to distance myself from the cycling world….. It felt like I had a kind of break in my career. For the first time in eight years, I had the time and the space to answer those essential questions. Because of this I found what I had lost a bit: the fun of cycling.”
During Dumoulin’s long recovery period, he decided to call it quits with with Sunweb, and inked a new deal with Team Jumbo-Visma.
“I had indeed been around for a long time [with Sunweb] with the idea that we were no longer making each other better,” he said. Dumoulin signed his first WorldTour contract with the German franchise in 2013 and had been there ever since.
“I realized that a fresh wind might be very good for both of us. I still had an ongoing contract until the end of 2021. In the end I went to the table with [Sunweb boss] Iwan Spekenbrink with lead shoes on. That certainly wasn’t nice.”
Dumoulin’s awkward extraction from Sunweb has left him free to join Dutch team Jumbo-Visma in 2020 and race alongside grand tour stars Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk. Roglic rode to Vuelta a Espana victory in 2019, while Kruijswijk placed third in the Tour de France and has a handful of top-10s in other grand tours in his palmares. There couldn’t be a starker contrast to Dumoulin’s years as sole leader at Sunweb.
“At Sunweb I was almost always the only man in recent years,” said Dumoulin. “There it was explicitly communicated that only Tom was being driven. I didn’t like that. I want to be able to prove myself.”
Dumoulin sees joining a team with multiple leaders as a refreshing change, and a situation that will keep him hungry to better himself. With three bona fide GC options, Jumbo-Visma will be able to put up a genuine challenge to Team Ineos in 2020. Dumoulin cites the British team as an example of how a multiple leader strategy can work, and is comfortable to share the spotlight after years in the glare at his former team.
“They start with a leader, but usually also have one or two spare leaders,” he said. “This has worked well for them for years. Of course there may have been some friction because someone was somewhat trapped with good legs. That will come to us too. As long as we accept that everyone gets a fair chance to realize their own ambition, I see no problems.”
Dumoulin goes into 2020 confident that the lingering knee injury that blighted his 2019 is behind him. Add to that a slot in cycling’s new superteam and a re-discovered love of the bike, and the Dutchman feels that his career is starting over.
“I hope to be active as a professional cyclist for 15 years. That would mean that I split my career right in the middle last summer. A bit forced, but it feels good,” he said.
“I now have the idea that I can take it again for seven to eight years. Whether we can call this Dumoulin 2.0? Haha, that’s definitely a nice headline for the newspaper, isn’t it? Although I see it as the second part of my career.”
Let’s see what Dumoulin 2.0 can do with Jumbo-Visma in 2020. Whatever the result, it seems the Dutchman is happy to just be back on his bike.