If you think about bike racing today, there’s a big chance the name Tom Dumoulin will soon spring to mind. That’s not really surprising — he’s one of the best riders in the Low Countries and has a real chance of winning Grand Tours. And the interesting thing about Dumoulin is that, despite initial low expectations amongst bike racing fans, he keeps on improving himself and developing as a rider.

Part of the sprint train

We first got to hear about Tom Dumoulin in 2012. That was the year he got a place in the Argos–Shimano team, which then revolved around two big names: Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb. These were two young sprinters with huge potential, and they managed to win just about every race they set their sights on that year. Nothing much was expected of Tom Dumoulin. His role as a member of the sprint train was to ensure the sprinters were in the right position at the right time. He was however given the freedom from team leaders to ride the highest possible classification for himself, and during his first year with the team he regularly rode top ten in minor stage races, which showed his potential.

Tom Dumoulin

Dumoulin in the Argos–Shimano colours. Credit: Cor Vos

World Tour status

The following year, the Argos–Shimano team gained UCI World Tour status, meaning the team was no longer dependent on wildcards and was allowed to start in all the major races. This also ensured that Dumoulin (aged 22) could regularly compete against the world’s best riders. He progressed rapidly. He was a member of the UCI World Tour team that won four stages in the Tour de France with Marcel Kittel. Dumoulin also gained a podium place during the Eneco Tour (now BinckBank Tour), and two medals during the Dutch National Road Race Championships (bronze in the time trial; silver in the road race).

Tom Dumoulin

Dumoulin rode to second place in the 2013 Eneco Tour. Credit: Cor Vos

The big breakthrough: 2015

Dumoulin’s major breakthrough was in 2015. That year his target was to get as high as possible in the general classification of the major races. His goal was also to win the yellow jersey in the first stage time trial in the Dutch city of Utrecht (the Tour de France started in the Netherlands that year). This didn’t happen, but he rode attentively in the next stage and won the white jersey. Unfortunately, he crashed heavily in the third stage and was forced to retire from the race with a broken shoulder.

Tom Dumoulin time trial

Tom Dumoulin, master of the time trial. Credit: Cor Vos

Dumoulin was out of racing for a while after the 2015 Tour and he decided to make his comeback in the Tour of Spain. Without really being in top race condition, he still made a serious impression. He rode in excellent form, won a stage and the time trial, and wore the red leader’s jersey until the penultimate day of the race. The Netherlands was dreaming of a historic victory. Unfortunately, he lost a lot of time on the final mountain stage and ended up 6th in the general classification.

Tom Dumoulin Tour of Spain

Dumoulin beating Chris Froome on a first-category climb summit in stage 9, Vuelta 2015. Credit: Cor Vos

2016: the year of the time trial

You might have expected Dumoulin to go full-on for the highest classification in Grand Tours during the following year, but the opposite was the case. The year 2016 was an Olympic year and Dumoulin’s main target of the season was the gold medal in the Olympic men’s time trial. However, he still entered a number of races as part of his Olympic preparation.

He began in the Giro d’Italia, where he won the pink leader’s jersey in the opening time trial in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. He seemed to be riding well in the race, until he had to retire with an infection.

Tom Dumoulin Giro

Dumoulin won the pink jersey during the opening time trial of the Giro in Apeldoorn. Credit: Cor Vos

He then decided to ride the Tour de France, purely as a means of getting into form for the Olympics in Brazil. It was soon clear that he played no role of significance in the overall classification, however. But this gave him the freedom to attack and ride for his own chances. That resulted in a stage victory in the Queen Stage (the most demanding stage) and in the time trial. It went pear-shaped soon afterwards, when he crashed and broke his wrist, which also put his Olympic dream in serious jeopardy.

Olympic time trial

In the end, Dumoulin did make it to the Olympics. He had to enter the road race, in order to be allowed to start in the time trial. He retired after 12km however in order to fully focus on the time trial, which was looking to become a major battle between Dumoulin and Chris Froome. Dumoulin rode an amazing race, and beat Froome. However, nobody seemed to have taken Fabian Cancellara into account. Cancellara was riding his final season, and hadn’t really booked any decent results up until then. But, out of nowhere, the old dog Cancellara attacked and won Olympic Gold.

Tom Dumoulin time trial

Dumoulin beat Froome in Brazil, but they had both forgotten about one guy… Credit: Cor Vos

Dumoulin is a winner, so he was disappointed, but also proud, of his achievement. And he certainly earned success, if you look back at where he came from. It was once again confirmation that Dumoulin was evolving into one of the greats. The subsequent two years only added to that reputation — we will look at that period in a separate article.