Of all his wins, Tom Dumoulin’s fourth Dutch time trial title could be the biggest of his career.
After taking a sabbatical in the first half of this year, Dumoulin’s 27-second victory over Sebastian Langeveld in Emmen is a sign that the ‘Butterfly of Maastricht’ is back.
The win was more than just the jersey and the medal, it also makes an important statement that it is possible to take time out for your own physical and mental health and still be able to perform at an extremely high level upon your return.
In what is often portrayed as a sport only for the toughest, showing vulnerability and taking care of yourself is not a weakness.
“I am so happy with this victory. It had been a long time since I had won a race. Of the four time trial titles won at the Dutch championships, this one feels the most special. I can say that I am proud of myself,” Dumoulin said after his victory.
“It’s not easy to return to my old level, but gradually things are improving. These kilometers on the time trial bike are very important towards the Olympics. My base just needs to be a little more stable. I have every confidence that it will work out.”
Dumoulin only returned to racing action recently at the Tour de Suisse, where he admitted that he had initially wondered what he had let himself in for as he tested himself at the highest level for the first time since abandoning the Vuelta a España last October.
As with all time trials, victory is a mental as well as a physical challenge and it was even more so for Dumoulin as he explores his limits again.
“In the second part, the heat started to play a role. My legs became slightly tired. It was hard work,” Dumoulin explained.
“But I have recovered well after a week of racing in Switzerland. I rode a very good time trial. If I had ridden this time trial a few years ago, I would have been very happy, too. I am close to my good form. In Switzerland, it went a little bit better every day. I started to like racing more and more. I have continued that feeling. I am very happy with the title today. This is really a victory over myself.”
Of course, a national time trial is not the ultimate goal, but it is a strong signal that Dumoulin is on the right path ahead of the Olympic Games next month.
Finding peace with oneself
It was hard not to smile along with Dumoulin, whose joy and satisfaction was apparent when he crossed the line and as he stood on the podium. While the last few months of Dumoulin’s career might seem a simple enough story to tell, it can’t have been an easy time for the Dutchman.
The world of professional cycling can be like a whirlwind bumping a rider from place to place with little time to sit back and take stock of what has happened. Dumoulin had enjoyed a career with more success than most, but it also came with its setbacks that he often had to deal with in a very public manner.
Perhaps the aptest example of that was Dumoulin’s breakthrough as a grand tour rider at the 2015 Vuelta a España. The spotlight on him intensified as he edged closer and closer to overall victory until it all came crashing down around him on the final mountain stage.
In the depths of disappointment, Dumoulin dealt admirably with the attention. Always honest and never afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, Dumoulin patiently told it as it was in both Dutch and English.
Through his ups and downs, Dumoulin always said it how it was but living the major highs and lows of cycling takes its toll on even the best of riders. In the end, the person that he had to be most honest with was himself.
It is through being honest with himself that Dumoulin has been able to find peace with himself and his place within the sport.
Riders before him, such as Marcel Kittel and Pete Kennaugh, have taken time out after struggling with that same quandary – just what do I want from cycling?
Unlike Dumoulin, they would both ultimately decide that their careers were over, and they wouldn’t make that return.
Speaking at an event on the Isle of Man recently, Kennaugh spoke of how he had lost his love of the sport and that — despite feeling a pang of missing out when he watched his former competitors on the television — he was more than happy with this new chapter in his life.
Both Kittel and Kennaugh have gone on to lead fulfilling and happy lives since taking that decision, and they should be applauded as much for that as Dumoulin for his return.
It could have so easily gone that way for Dumoulin — and that would have been ok, too — but a visit to the Amstel Gold Race back in April that reignited his competitive spirit and passion for the sport.
One has to wonder what might have happened if Dumoulin didn’t have a major WorldTour race on his doorstep but that is a moot point now.
Here’s hoping that the time trial victory is the beginning of a Dumoulin who finds happiness in his career as a rider. There will, of course, be more ups and downs — that is a side to sport that cannot be avoided — but, hopefully, he will be better equipped to deal with them.