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Sunweb DS: Dumoulin’s growing ambitions did not square with team’s egalitarian style

Luke Roberts reveals more details of Dutch star's unhappy exit from his long-standing team.

Team Sunweb lost its GC hope and central figure Tom Dumoulin at the start of this season as the Dutchman stepped into a new chapter of his career with Jumbo-Visma.

Having ridden with the German Team Giant/Sunweb franchise since turning pro in 2012, Dumoulin left his long-time home under a cloud. Citing unhappiness, an overburdening sense of pressure, and a deteriorating relationship with his team as his motives behind the need for a “fresh wind” and change of scene, Dumoulin painted a dark picture of his final 12 months at Sunweb.

While Dumoulin has been vocal on his unhappy exit from his former home through the past months, Team Sunweb has remained quiet. Speaking to VeloNews on Wednesday, Team Sunweb sport director Luke Roberts shared the team’s perspective of the Dumoulin disharmony.

“Tom was quite ambitious,” Roberts told VeloNews. “The more pressure that came on him, and with his high ambition, he liked to have a lot of control. To have good cooperation and good teamwork inside a team, it’s important that riders can work together well with the rest of the people in the team, the riders, [and] the staff.”

Having risen to grand tour glory in 2017 with Giro d’Italia victory, and backed-up the breakout performance the following year with second places in both the 2018 Giro and Tour de France, Dumoulin became a star in his home nation and a new force in the stage racing scene. Alongside the likes of Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, and Primož Roglič, Dumoulin was at the top of any bookmaker’s list of favorites for the three-week races.

And according to Roberts, that growth in ambition and expectation did not correspond with Sunweb’s more egalitarian philosophy.

“Tom was heading to the point where he was struggling to give up some control on decisions and wanted to take a lot of decisions himself,” Roberts said in a telephone interview. “It was leading to him becoming unhappy and going into a situation where he felt he needed to switch and find some fresh momentum.

“We realized with the way it was going together, the cooperation wasn’t going to improve,” Roberts continued. “We would have stayed stagnant and we need riders that are willing to be open to continue developing and keep working with us. When that didn’t seem to be working with Tom, it was better for us to make the decision to part ways.”

With Dumoulin proving more demanding and Sunweb refusing to bow, relationships broke down and the Dutchman traded his red Sunweb jersey for the yellow of Jumbo-Visma. Though injury and illness have so far prevented Dumoulin from racing in his new team’s kit, he is set to get the pedals turning again when the race season restarts next month.

Sharing leadership at Jumbo-Visma will mark a striking change for Dumoulin after his central role at Sunweb. Photo: Team Jumbo-Visma

Dumoulin’s major goal for this year is one of the most coveted in cycling – the maillot jaune of the Tour de France. While Roberts spoke of Dumoulin’s need for control at Team Sunweb, the Dutchman will have to cede a lot of that in France this summer, riding alongside Roglič and Steven Kruijswijk as the trio share leadership duties of Team Jumbo-Visma.

On leaving Team Sunweb, Dumoulin had spoken of his dislike of being the default go-to guy at the squad.

“There [at Sunweb], it was explicitly communicated that only Tom was being driven,” Dumoulin said in an interview. “I didn’t like that. I want to be able to prove myself.”

With Team Jumbo-Visma planning to operate a policy of “letting the road decide” whether Dumoulin, Roglič or Kruijswijk will play leader at the Tour this summer, the Dutchman’s desire to prove himself will be put to the test.

“It will be a different feeling for Tom,” Roberts said. “In our tactics, we would often put all our resources into one rider, whereas now for Tom, it will be something different to have to share leadership with one or two others.

“All top riders are very ambitious and it’s difficult to manage to have ambitious top riders who are after results themselves to give up their chances to work with somebody else,” Roberts continued. “Politics in those situations can be inevitable. The more successful a rider becomes, the more difficult it is for them to be willing to give up chances for someone else.”

While both Roglič and Dumoulin have stated that they’re willing to support whoever emerges as the strongest rider when the Tour heats up, friction could be inevitable. While Roglič wants to keep the wheels turning on his blossoming grand tour career, Dumoulin will be looking to prove he’s still the same force he was in 2017 and 2018.

Roberts will be watching with interest.

“It will be interesting to see how Tom develops,” he said. “I worked with him for quite a few years, so I’m keen to see how his career evolves. Jumbo-Visma and sharing leadership will be something quite different for him. I’ll be interested to see how he adapts.”