After Tom Dumoulin’s near miss at the Vuelta a España, a result that surprised him as much as anyone else, the young Dutchman’s career trajectory is very much in flux.
Conventional wisdom held that Dumoulin was too tall to climb, too thin to time trial, and too young to lead a team. That quickly fell away in Spain. Yet nobody really knows how far he can go, what he can make his body do, or how effectively he can tune it to varying athletic pursuits. His is now a career pulled by conflicting goals — stage races or time trial dominance, Tour de France or the Rio Olympics — and, after the Vuelta, redirected by incredible results. The Dutchman sat down with VeloNews to describe his path forward and help illuminate the one he’s ridden until today.
You seem to be a rider in the Bradley Wiggins or Miguel Indurain mold. Do you use them as models?
I look at other riders and try to learn from them. If I could be as skinny as Wiggins and still ride fast, then why not. But it’s not like I want to be Wiggins or Tony Martin.
How did you start riding?
By coincidence. I was always playing football [soccer], and I didn’t like it anymore. I was looking at options; I liked sports, and I needed a way to get my energy out. I tried track and field, but I only like running, and they kept trying to make me jump and do other things, and I didn’t like that.
By European standards, you came late to cycling. You were 15.
A lot of riders start competition at 15 or 16, but they had ridden with their dad since they were eight. I’d never ridden my bike before I was 15. I’m 24 now, so I have nine years on the bike. At this point it doesn’t matter if you started at 15 or eight.
Did you gain a bit of freedom by coming to the sport a bit late?
I think so. To me, cycling is something that I love to do and that I will love to do over the coming years. If it all ended, I would be devastated, but I would find another life. It’s not like I’m lost without a bike. I really love it. But if I don’t ride my bike for three weeks in the off-season, I’m okay with that. I don’t get grumpy in the off-season without a bike.
Do you have to love cycling to be a pro?
Riding is a lot of fun. If it felt like a job I wouldn’t be doing it. Or maybe I would be, but I couldn’t do it like this. If you’re going for the top results in any sport, but especially in cycling, you have to make a lot of sacrifices. That’s only possible if you really like it.
Without your Tour crash, would we have seen you as a grand tour contender in France?
No, I don’t think so. I think my weight was a bit lower at the Vuelta than at the Tour, and my form was a bit better too. If you look at the first [Tour] time trial in Utrecht, I don’t think I would have done that better with Vuelta shape. But my climbing and my recovery were a bit better at the Vuelta. It was never the plan to race for GC at the Tour. But it wasn’t the plan at the Vuelta, either. So, you never know.
So the Vuelta was a surprise then?
The Vuelta was quite a surprise to me. The idea in this part of my career is to finish a grand tour every year to just make me stronger. That was the idea for the Vuelta. I prepared well. I went to altitude again, and I trained pretty hard. But I went to the Vuelta without any expectations. I just wanted to show myself and show the world that I worked hard after my crash and that I was still motivated for the last part of the season.
Now I know I can do it. I know how I trained before the Vuelta, how to watch my weight. There are things I learned for the future. It made me a wiser man, that Vuelta.
Will your team provide more climbing support next season?
Well, they said they will. Already before this Vuelta that was the plan. In the future, the team will have a goal of keeping the sprint and lead-out but also looking at support for me and Warren Barguil. He almost did a top 10 at the tour, and I did top 10 at the Vuelta. We are both young; we’ll continue to develop. The team sees that. They acknowledge that we need a bit more support in the mountains.
But I won’t always target the general classification. I’m starting to get really comfortable with this time-trial trick. I know how to be aerodynamic, where to push the power on the course, where to take my recovery. I know how to take the corners. I’m getting better.