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JEBEL JAIS, United Arab Emirates (VN) — Tom Dumoulin came inches from victory after riding in pain for miles.
Not known for his sprint, the Dutch rider accelerated to the front of the diminished peloton during the final meters of Friday’s queen stage of the UAE Tour. The 180-km stage finished atop the Jebel Jais climb, the highest mountain in the United Arab Emirates.
Dumoulin’s sprint held off every rider except one. Race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) was able to power around Dumoulin in the waning meters to take his first stage win of the 2019 race. After the stage, Dumoulin was diplomatic about his second-place finish.
“I proved today that my condition is good,” Dumoulin said. “I had a good go for it. Roglic was still stronger.”
Dumoulin told reporters he was involved in a crash just 5km into the stage. In the pile-up he injured one of his legs and spent the rest of the day riding in pain. Dumoulin said he contemplated quitting the race altogether for several hours, eventually deciding to stay in.
“I had a lot of problems with my leg. I think I overstretched it somehow,” Dumoulin said. “I thought it didn’t make any sense to continue. I knew I was on good form so I was disappointed when I crashed.”
The crash marked the second major setback for Dumoulin during the weeklong race. During Tuesday’s stage 3 from Al Ain to the Jebel Hafeet climb, Dumoulin lacked the top-end climbing speed of Roglic, Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), and stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Dumoulin was gapped at the midpoint of the race and finished 13th place, 44 seconds down.
The former world time trial champion said his effort on Friday erased any worries he had from the bad showing on Jebel Hafeet. The Jebel Jais climb lacked any steep pitches — the average gradient was five percent. Yet at 20km in length, the climb was a legitimate test for the group’s best climbers. Swirling winds and a driving pace by Jumbo-Visma kept the group together for the entire climb. By the final hairpin, only nine riders remained in the group.
“I confirmed that my shape is good, I knew that beforehand and yeah because of some reasons I was not very good at the other summit hill finish but now I was okay,” Dumoulin said.
Still, Dumoulin’s overall placing — sixth place at 1:08 down on Roglic — is a sign that the Dutch rider has yet to hit his peak form this year. Dumoulin’s 2019 racing schedule is lighter in the coming weeks. He will race Tirreno-Adriatico and the one-day races Milano-Sanremo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège before tackling the Giro. Between the Ardennes finale and the season’s first grand tour, he will complete another training block in preparation for the race.
“I don’t do many races,” Dumoulin said after the opening team time trial. “I maybe do 16 races a year, and that’s why I want to do well at all 16.
Aike Visbeek, the team’s sport director, said Dumoulin has plenty of time to find his top form before the Giro. And the UAE Tour marked an important benchmark for both the Dutch rider and his teammates, who spent the week racing together in preparation for the Giro.
“I think Tom is pretty close to where he should be. Maybe he’s not yet in the flow,” Visbeek said. “It’s about getting the feeling, and the feeling on the new bike, to get in the flow of things.”