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The cycling community has rallied around Tom Dumoulin after the Dutchman’s shock decision to press pause on his racing career Saturday.
Dumoulin, 30, left the Jumbo-Visma pre-season camp abruptly Saturday after making a decision with team bosses to “consider his cycling future” and take a temporary leave from racing.
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The news came as a shock to the outside world, who only the day before, had learned of the Dutchman’s race program and ambitions for the season in a series of media releases. Wout van Aert, teammate of Dumoulin for the past 12 months, explained that Dumoulin’s exit was perhaps not such a shock to those inside the Jumbo-Visma bubble.
“For me, this news was less of a surprise than for the outside world,” van Aert told broadcasters after taking second at the Flandriencross on Saturday. “I think Tom has had a very difficult year. Before that, he was away for a long time with injuries and he also had a difficult time mentally. We noticed last year in the team that his return came with ups and downs.”
Dumoulin had joined Jumbo-Visma at the start of 2020 in a hope to reboot his career.
Having seen the back-half of his 2019 campaign with Team Sunweb wiped out by an injury sustained at the Giro d’Italia and suffered fallouts with team insiders, the Dutchman was looking to start afresh with Jumbo-Visma. However, just months after he made the move to his home team, Dumoulin was struck with intestinal illnesses, with the COVID race pause then further pushing back his return to racing.
Though the former Giro champ saw a return to form through the summer of last year, he flamed out of the Vuelta a España in October, abandoning after the first week, complaining of fatigue. Van Aert said that he hopes a prolonged spell away from racing sees Dumoulin return to his best.
“I hope this is a decision to come back stronger, he remains a great champion,” said the Belgian. “But I do understand that it is a surprise to many people.”
Dumoulin’s decision to “take a leave with an unknown time frame from our beautiful sport” is not without precedent in modern cycling. German sprinter Marcel Kittel took a temporary pause from cycling in spring 2019 when part of the Katusha-Alpecin squad, and after some four months of soul-seeking, decided to retire having never returned to racing.
Kittel raced with Dumoulin in 2014 and 2015 as part of Team Giant-Shimano. The German sprinter empathized with his former teammate, after experiencing similar emotional troubles and career contemplations.
“I know from personal experience how it feels and how difficult it can be when you’re doubting what you do and you want to look beyond your current life and identity. Only time will give you the answers and I hope for Tom that he’ll find them soon,” Kittel wrote. “Until then I wish him the same strength that he’s got on the bike also for this part of his career.”
Dumoulin’s next moves are unknown, though last week, the team had sketched out a race program set to kick start at Strade Bianche in March before taking a rare trip to the cobbled classics, all ahead of building toward a co-leadership role Primož Roglič and Steven Kruijswijk at the Tour.
Despite the shock turnaround, team insiders stated their commitment to support their home star.
“This life didn’t make him happy anymore. All that matters is his well-being,” sport director Merijn Zeeman told Wielerflits. “Tom has said emphatically that he would very much like to return to this team when he feels like cycling again. We are of course open to that. We want to help him where possible.”
Zeeman explained that Dumoulin’s short tenure at the team had seen him riding an emotional rollercoaster.
The Dutchman had ended his spell with Team Sunweb under a cloud, leaving the squad two years before his contract expired as he struggled with heightened expectations of repeating his Giro victory of 2017 and two grand tour podium finishes the following year. Zeeman said that though Dumoulin brightened in Jumbo-Visma’s pre-season training camps last year, the stomach illness he contracted soon afterward and subsequent COVID racing pause reversed that momentum.
“In the subsequent first corona lockdown, he really went deep mentally,” he said. “Then he already had a very difficult time. We arranged professional help during that period to help him with this.”
Speaking separately on a team-released video interview, Zeeman explained that doubts continued to nag for Dumoulin as he considered his options.
“We gave Tom all the help he needed already from the last season. In the end, the same question kept coming up, and in close consultation with us, he decided to take a break to come back to his senses,” he said in the team video. “We got Tom professional help, we worked very hard on that. In that process ‘I don’t know if i still want it’ was an outcome. In the end, it’s Tom’s decision and we support him in that.”
Just as Dumoulin is now considering his options, so too is Jumbo-Visma as it prepares to battle the likes of Ineos Grenadiers, UAE-Team Emirates, and Israel Start-Up Nation for the yellow jersey in France. The team expressed confidence that they had the depth in their roster to support No. 1 rider Roglič as he looks to go one better than his second-place at the 2020 Tour, and that it would give the opportunities for new talent – such as Sepp Kuss – to step up.
In the meantime, Jumbo-Visma is ready to play the waiting game.
“You don’t have to put a time limit on [a comeback]. That does not work,” Zeeman said. “Only when he has completely relaxed and has distanced himself from the cycling world can he indicate what he wants to continue with his life. The most important thing now is that Tom starts to feel happy again.
“The fact that after that decision he woke up with a smile on Friday evening and returned to the Netherlands with a sense of relief is currently the most important thing. ”