Tom Dumoulin hasn’t lost his thirst for competition, but the last 12 months have changed how and where he seeks it.
As he nails down the final preparations for his first full season of competition since 2020, the Dutchman has picked a path that will take him out of the pressure cooker that burned him out in the past.
It is the reason he has chosen to return to the Giro d’Italia for the fifth time in his career, and why he’s so happy to have a co-leader in Tobias Foss to shoulder the burden. Dumoulin — who is in Colombia for a pre-season training camp — still has the desire to achieve big things, but he doesn’t want it to be all about him.
“That’s very nice. I am not really an alpha male. I’ve struggled with having a whole crew revolve around me in the past,” Dumoulin said. “It is nicer that I can now share the leadership with Tobias in that respect. He is a very nice and suitable rider for that. I hope we can both reach a high level. In that case, we can help each other in the finals.”
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The limelight and attention that comes with being a major grand tour contender is something that Dumoulin never sought out himself. It was thrust upon him with his standout ride at the 2015 Vuelta a España.
After coming so close to taking home the red jersey, until a collapse in form on the final mountain stage, Dumoulin would never be able to put the grand tour genie back in its box. After deferring any GC bid for a year to focus on the Olympic Games in Rio, Dumoulin delivered on his grand tour promise by winning the 2017 Giro d’Italia.
It made him the center of Team Sunweb’s GC hopes but struggles with injury and disappointing results would grind down his desire to compete. Even a switch to Jumbo-Visma for 2020 wasn’t enough to get Dumoulin out of his rut.
With his return still very much in its early stages — he only raced 19 days last year — Dumoulin is taking tentative strides back towards his former goals. Whether he can return to the heady heights of grand tour winner remains to be seen.
“After the recent period, I thought it wiser to avoid the madness that the Tour entails. My personal feeling also tends more towards the Giro. That race evokes warm feelings in me. I think it is a great race,” Dumoulin said.
“I will do everything I can from start to finish as high as possible in the standings. The only downside is that there are perhaps too few time trial kilometers included in the course. For various reasons, it has been a while since I rode for a classification. I don’t think I have lost the touch. It is something I have always been naturally good at.”
Returning to his roots
Dumoulin’s journey towards the Giro d’Italia will take him to the Amstel Gold Race for the first time since 2016. It is perhaps a bit of a surprise addition to his calendar, given that he’s never finished better than 20th, but it is a chance to touch base with home.
Dumoulin is from Maastricht, where the race has started since 1998, and it was the event that would ultimately reignite his passion for racing last year when he attended as a spectator.
“Due to the shift of the Amstel Gold Race, I can combine it with an altitude training period. I must invest in altitude training in preparation for a grand tour,” he said. “Because the Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Roubaix have switched places due to the French elections, it is an ideal combination for me. I find it very special to ride this race in my own country. It used to be one of the reasons why I started cycling.”
— daniel mcmahon (@cyclingreporter) April 18, 2021
Dumoulin is taking his season as it comes, and he hasn’t planned too far in advance but the hunger to race is quite clear. After claiming an emotional silver medal in the Olympic time trial, he has his eyes set on a tilt at the world championships, something he was unable to do in 2021 after breaking his wrist in September when he was hit by a driver during training.
“I already have several interesting races in mind,” Dumoulin said of the second part of his season. “I am eagerly looking forward to the world championships in Australia. I would like to ride both the time trial and the road race. The Tour of Lombardy and the other Italian races at that time of year also appeals to me.”
The build-up to this season is very different from the last one for Dumoulin.
Some 12 months ago, he spoke to the world’s media about his big ambitions for 2021 but it was masking an internal struggle for the Dutchman. Indeed, it was only a day later that he confirmed he would take an indefinite break from cycling.
Dumoulin will still have to deal with stresses and disappointments as he makes his way through the rest of his career, but he takes it on with a different perspective. One that has been guided by his decision to be brave enough to give it all up not knowing if he’d ever come back.
“My cycling life looks very different now compared to a year ago,” he said. “At that moment, I had to stop myself. In hindsight, I’m happy I did that at the time. I made a conscious choice to be a cyclist. It has its good sides but also its downsides.
“I can live with that better now because I know this is what I really want. Now it’s a new year with a new Tom Dumoulin. I am in a different place now. I feel really good and I’m looking forward to the coming year. I have a lot of ambitions.”