Tom Dumoulin is at a career crossroads.
After 10 years in the pro peloton, Dumoulin made the surprise decision last weekend to put his career on hiatus, stating that he would be taking leave from the Jumbo-Visma fold as he considers his future in cycling. After some two years of injury, faltering form, and team fallouts, there’s a very real prospect that the 30-year-old could hang up his wheels for good.
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Is a short sabbatical just what Dumoulin needs to recharge the batteries and refresh the mojo? Or does this mark the final nail in the coffin of the Dutchman’s career as he faces up to life in a team with the depth of roster to easily manage without him?
Andrew Hood: Dumoulin will be back
Dumoulin’s sudden departure was a shock for nearly everyone. It certainly was a surprise to his team, who had just released his racing calendar for 2021. It wasn’t a complete surprise, though, for people close to him. It’s been pretty obvious that he was struggling on the bike and, as it is now known, he was struggling off it as well.
As one of the top members of the “Class of 1990,” Dumoulin is indeed at a crossroads. I think he can hit pause on his career and return as a significant player.
Perhaps Dumoulin is permanently hobbled, and he knows he can never be the same racer he was when he won the Giro d’Italia in 2017. No champion wants to settle for being just pack-fill after dancing in the heights of the sport. But if his motor is still fully intact, a short respite to regroup and refocus could be just what he needs.
This voluntary stoppage is quite different from being sidelined from racing due to a crash or serious injury. Riders who do return from injury remain fully committed both physically and mentally to the sport. The WorldTour requires 100 percent dedication, and if Dumoulin wants to disconnect to give himself time to breathe without that incessant pressure, he runs the risk of straying too far away.
He’s running a big risk. It’s rare for a rider to step away from the pressure cooker of the sport, and return to the top after a significant amount of time. So if Dumoulin wants to be a top-level WorldTour pro racer again, he cannot let this sabbatical run on very long. And if he does mean to steer clear of racing for an entire season or more, he’s going to have to remain very active on the bike to retain his base fitness.
As the old saying goes, a happy racer is a winning racer. If Dumoulin is so miserable that he hates what he does, he’s smart to step back and reconsider his options. Cycling is a dangerous sport, and anything short of full commitment puts himself and everyone around him at peril.
If in three months, Dumoulin is watching the Giro d’Italia on TV, and missing the thrill of racing and training, he’ll be back. If he cruises through the summer without feigning much interest in the grand tours or the Olympics, then the fire is gone.
If he indeed is still 100 percent physically, he won’t lose the genetic blessings that helped make him an elite pro overnight, but that’s obviously only part of the winning equation. If he can rediscover the magic of racing and the drive to train, Dumoulin can bounce back from this with success. If his heart and soul is not in it, his WorldTour career is over.
Jim Cotton: Dumoulin is done
I can’t see Dumoulin coming back from this.
Unless he returns to the form of 2017 that scored him his landmark Giro d’Italia victory, he’s an expensive luxury on the team, and he will know that.
Primož Roglič has proven himself the most reliable and consistent classification rider in the world and is the natural focal point of the team. Coming up behind him are Sepp Kuss and Wout van Aert, two of the most promising riders in the peloton. Kuss is due to make a debut as a GC co-captain at the Vuelta, and Van Aert is turning his eye toward week-long races this season. Their potential is enormous and could explode into grand tour glory in the next few years, and Jumbo-Visma will support that ambition given their youth.
Steven Kruijswijk may no longer be a genuine grand tour threat, but he, George Bennett, and Robert Gesink more-than fill the role of veteran superdomestique that Dumoulin could slot into. And after a pink jersey and two grand tour second-places, would Dumoulin be happy to play the grand tour support role? Given his previous insistence that he could step up as team leader for the Tour should Roglič falter, I cannot see it.
A role as a backup option on the cobbles could throw new life into Dumoulin’s love for racing, but, again, will he be happy to settle back into a secondary role? Perhaps more to the point, even just one month off the bike will see him land back in the peloton in late February, leaving him just six weeks to find his form for Flanders. It would make for an optimistic roll of the dice by his Jumbo-Visma team to send him to De Ronde, as was originally planned.
Dumoulin is signed through 2022 with Jumbo-Visma. In theory, he could break contract and try something with a totally different team, away from the strictures and science of Team Sunweb and Jumbo-Visma’s models.
However, Dumoulin likely commands a hefty paycheck as the Dutch posterboy of the Dutch Jumbo-Visma squad. Not many teams will be able to match such a salary, and how would a record of two early splits from his two previous squads look to a potential new employer?
Dumoulin seems an intelligent and charismatic guy. He nearly turned toward a medical career before jumping into professional bike-racing life, so he’s got the brain cells to do something totally different, inside or outside of the sport. Look at Marcel Kittel – now an economics student — who has a high-profile partnership with Rose Bikes. Tom could do similar.