Tom Dumoulin, it seems, is a man who dances to his own beat in more ways than one. Despite his breakout showing at last year’s Vuelta a España, the Giant-Alpecin rider has ignored the siren call of targeting the general classification at Grand Tours in order to stick to his own, pre-established career plan, and build his 2016 season around the time trial at the Rio Olympic Games.
On stage 4 of the Tour of Oman to Green Mountain, meanwhile, Dumoulin refused to allow himself be distracted by the accelerations of more explosive climbers in the front group, preferring instead to proceed at his own tempo up the remorseless 7.5-kilometre climb.
It was a tactic that appeared to pay dividends. Dumoulin seemed to have been irremediably distanced when stage winner Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana guard laid down a brisk pace from the outset, but by the summit, he had fought his way back up to finish fourth on the day, just 18 seconds down.
“I did not do the whole climb at exactly the same power, but I tried to,” Dumoulin explained afterwards. “I was not able to follow the strong attacks, so I decided not to do that. It’s hard, it’s just a hard mountain.”
On the upper slopes of the climb, Dumoulin played the tortoise, while hares such as Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) or the over-geared Eduardo Sepulveda (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), who had fought so exuberantly early on, began to fade.
“The whole climb was hard and with the heat too, it was tough,” Dumoulin said. “In the last two kilometres, my power also dropped down but I got closer to the first riders, so I think everyone blew up a little bit with the first heat of the year.”
While the stage winner Nibali arrived in the Gulf with the Tour de San Luis already in his legs, the Tour of Oman is Dumoulin’s first race of the season, and as he changed into a long-sleeve jersey before descending to his team car at the base of Green Mountain, he declared himself pleased with his week’s work to date.
“I thought I would be ok, but this is good and I wasn’t expecting good,” he said. “I’m getting better day by day and today was a really good test, I’m really happy with it. I was never going to win, but I was still close, so that is good.
“I don’t know if I needed it but after a long winter of doing only endurance and a little bit of efforts, I’m just happy to race again. It doesn’t feel nice when you’re doing it, but actually this is what I like: this is why I started cycling.”
Dumoulin lies in fourth place on the general classification, 40 seconds down on the new leader Nibali, and 16 behind the third-placed Jakob Fuglsang (Astana). On arrival in Muscat last week, the Dutchman stressed that next month’s Paris-Nice would be his first real target of the new campaign, though he was cautious about projecting how his Oman form might translate to France in March.
“It’s a completely different race. I am always good in the heat, but Paris-Nice could have really bad weather and then it’s going to change maybe,” he said. “But I’m definitely happy with my shape and happy with my form ahead of Paris-Nice.”