Tom Dumoulin is the best Dutch rider of recent years. In an earlier article we looked at the formative years of his career, but it’s during the past two years that he has really risen to the top. We cover them here.
At the end of 2016, Dumoulin made it clear that he wanted to go for the general classification in the Giro d’Italia 2017. He focused his training on climbing. In theory, that type of training would impact on his time trailing fitness, but in retrospect the influence was less than expected.
Having said that, his preparatory races didn’t bode well. He rode quite decently in the Tirreno–Adriatico, but in the time trial, supposedly his speciality, he was nowhere to be seen. He ended the most significant preparatory race for the Giro with a 6th place overall. He then went on altitude training and entered Liège–Bastogne–Liège as a final preparation — his 22nd place was nothing to write home about.
Let the Giro begin
In early May 2017, Dumoulin arrived at the start of the Tour of Italy. He had no major victories to his name but had built a large amount of self-confidence. During the very first stage, the peloton had to climb Mount Etna. This is a long but very even climb, and Dumoulin showed that he could apparently keep up with all the favourites without too much effort. A week later, there was the climb up the Blockhaus. Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, Colombian Nairo Quintana, and Italian Vincenzo Nibali all appeared to be best qualified for victory on that stage. Dumoulin was dropped on the climb. But he continued at his own pace and ended the stage 30s down on Quintana. That was annoying, but not insurmountable.
The individual time trial soon followed. Normally this would be the opportunity for Dumoulin to make up a lot of time on the opposition, but his climbing preparation begged the question as to how much impact that would have on his time trialing. He won the stage — gaining three minutes on Nairo Quintana — and took over the pink jersey. Quintana aimed to win back that time during stage 14, the climb up the Oropa. Initially, the Colombian’s tactics appeared to be working, but Dumoulin kept grinding up the climb at his own pace, overtook Quintana, and shot past the rest to win the stage in a sprint.
The infamous stop
Everything appeared to be in order, until the 16th stage, the Queen Stage, when Dumoulin dismounted for a very urgent sanitary stop. He completed the operation surprisingly quickly but nevertheless lost too much time to get back into the race. He lost two minutes, though kept the pink jersey — just. The tension was well and truly back in the race. In the 19th stage, Dumoulin had an off day. He lost a large amount of time and dropped to 4th overall in the general classification. Luckily for him, that year’s Giro ended with a time trial.
Final time trial
It was a time trial during which he had to gain 53s over first-place rider Quintana. It was an all-or-nothing day and Dumoulin was in top form. Only fellow Dutchman Jos van Emden managed to beat him, but in the general classification Dumoulin won back the pink jersey. Tom Dumoulin wrote cycling history, winning a Grand Tour. It was a victory he had set his sights on and one which us fans can all look back on with great affection.
After this great success, Dumoulin decided to focus on the latter part of that season, with the UCI World Championships as the most important goal. He had ridden exceptional time trials all year, so the idea of a world championship medal for the individual time trial wasn’t completely crazy. So that year he travelled to Bergen in Norway with the goal of returning as world champion. He beat both Chris Froome and Primož Roglič to win the medal. Ending that dream season with a victory in the Giro and the world champion’s rainbow jersey, he was voted Sportsman of the Year in the Netherlands.
2018: very strong again
After that huge year, it was clear that Tom Dumoulin was now one of the top contenders in the peloton. His first goal in the new year was clear: to defend his Giro title. And if he still felt good afterwards, he would entertain the idea of riding the Tour de France. Spring 2018 didn’t go very well, however. He had to deal with illness, equipment failures, and was altogether not in the right frame of mind. He was, he admitted later, too hungry for victory and found it difficult to deal with setbacks. Nevertheless, he started the Giro in the right frame of mind.
The Giro began in Israel, and Dumoulin won the prologue, and therefore the pink leader’s jersey. Similarly to the 2017 Giro, Dumoulin rode well and entered the third week in a handsome second place. At that time it was Sean Yates who was making all the running. The British rider won several stages and went into the third week with over 2mins’ advantage over Dumoulin. A big battle between the two men seemed inevitable, as Chris Froome was way back in 3rd place. Dumoulin won some time in the time trial, but his deficit was still a minute behind Yates.
Credit: Cor Vos
During stage 19, everything changed. Yates collapsed during the the tough mountain stage and soon lost half an hour on the leaders. And then Chris Froome attacked. During an insane solo of 80km, Froome managed to win over 3mins’ advantage over Dumoulin, and by doing so he eventually won the Giro. Dumoulin had to accept 2nd place. But still, two years in a row he had achieved a podium during a Grand Tour.
To the Tour de France
With a good result in the Giro in the pocket, Tom Dumoulin decided to ride the Tour de France again. On the one hand, he wanted to see how he would digest two consecutive major stage races; on the other hand, he wanted see if he could also get a good result. He started out well, and during the first couple of stages he kept clear of the customary crashes. He did lose over a minute during the 6th stage, though, due to mechanical failure and a jury penalty.
Dumoulin went well in the mountains. He tried to attack, but mostly had to concede to the surprisingly powerful Geraint Thomas. After two weeks’ racing, Dumoulin was in an impressive 3rd place. He had an 11-second deficit on Froome, who was in 2nd place, and was almost 2mins behind a super-strong Thomas. During the final week, it was stage 17 that stood out as the most legendary. Dumoulin chose to attack, and only Thomas was strong enough to follow him. Finally, Thomas himself attacked and rode away from Dumoulin. A similar scene followed on stage 19, which meant that Thomas entered the final time trial with over 2mins’ advantage.
Dumoulin won the time trial, with a very tight advantage over Froome who was soon followed by Thomas. Second place was the maximum Dumoulin could achieve, though, but nevertheless a result which he could only be happy about. There was nothing to do about the way that Thomas had ridden for the three weeks of racing. Dumoulin had done his best to attack where and when he could. Twice in one year he confirmed what we already knew: Tom Dumoulin is a very special rider indeed.
With two Grand Tours in his legs, Dumoulin decided to take it a bit easy, and then charge himself up one more time to defend his individual time trial jersey at the world championships. But this time he clearly had to concede that Rohan Dennis was the superior rider. Dennis was exceptionally well-prepared and won with a considerable advantage. Dumoulin was once again 2nd place, and he was not a happy man. This defeat charged him up for the road race at the world championships, and he managed to join the lead group in the final kilometres of the race, along with Alejandro Valverde, Romain Bardet, and Michael Woods. In the end he was 4th in the sprint behind winner Valverde.
Despite all this, it’s absolutely clear that Tom Dumoulin is an exceptional talent. He is only 28 years old and therefore has at least six more years as a professional to look forward to. We can anticipate many more great cycling moments with Dumoulin!