Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) may have arrived at the Vuelta a Espana with one eye on the World Time Trial Championships in Richmond, but lying second overall and just five seconds off the lead after four days, it would be remiss not to try to make hay while the sun shines at the end of his campaign.
It’s a philosophy that has served him well already this year, after all. Dumoulin’s season was centred on the Tour de France and he appeared on the verge of becoming the first Dutchman in the yellow jersey in 26 years only to crash and dislocate his shoulder en route to Mur de Huy on stage 3.
In the days of frustration that followed, Dumoulin at least had the consolation of having held little back during his final preparation race, the Tour de Suisse, where he claimed both time trial stages and finished third overall.
“If I hadn’t gone all out at Switzerland I’d have nothing to show for my season now. I thought like this already but Switzerland just confirmed that you have to take it when you can,” Dumoulin told Cyclingnews in Estepona on Tuesday. “You don’t get a lot of opportunities in the season, so you just have to go for it. Of course I’m here to prepare for the Worlds but the Vuelta itself is also an opportunity to get results that count.”
The Vuelta is Dumoulin’s first race since abandoning the Tour but he made light of the seven-week lay-off at Caminito del Rey on stage two, matching and then out-lasting one, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), on the climb to the line, before pushing winner Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge) all the way to the final 40 metres.
“It was a surprise. I thought I would have good legs because I felt good in training but you never know for sure. I said I’d give it a try and see how the shape would be and it’s turned out to be pretty good,” Dumoulin said. “Apparently freshness at the end of the season counts for a lot.”
Dumoulin’s Giant-Alpecin squad were prominent at Vejer de la Frontera on stage 4 in the hope that he might be able to dislodge Chaves and divest him of the red jersey on the complicated finale, but the Colombian was unmoved. Dumoulin is likely to try his luck again on the uphill finishes at Sierra de Cazorla on stage 6 and La Alpujarra the following day.
“Every day is hard but not too hard, so that suits me quite well actually because there are climbs but it’s not really the mountains so there could be an opportunity to go for it,” he said.
Madrid, Richmond and beyond
Still only 24 years of age, Dumoulin has exhibited a wide skillset during his four seasons in the Giant-Alpecin set-up, mixing time trial wins with success in hilly one-day races and stage races. To date, and despite his strong showings at the past two Tours de Suisse, however, he has been coy about his possibilities in the high mountains.
“It wasn’t and it’s still not really,” Dumoulin said when asked if a high overall finish in Madrid was an objective at this Vuelta.
“I’m still trying to go for this leader’s jersey but if that doesn’t work out, I will probably lose time and leave it. I won’t race for 10th place on GC. It needs to be either really good or else I’ll just save myself a little bit.”
The Worlds time trial is Richmond is certainly a target in the closing weeks of the season for Dumoulin, who took bronze in Ponferrada a year ago, and has continued his development against the watch throughout 2015. He is pragmatic, however, about his chances of landing a rainbow jersey on a course that seems perfectly suited to Tony Martin.
“It’s pretty straightforward and flat and really not so difficult. It’s not what I’d like, but I’ve had some good results in flat time trials also so I will definitely go for it,” he said. “It will be hard for me though – I definitely have more of a chance on a hilly course.”
Dumoulin is well aware that the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics will feature an exceedingly hilly time trial course that seems almost tailored to his specifications. “It’s maybe more interesting for me,” he admitted, but dreams of the Copacabana are unlikely to cloud his thinking in the meantime.