This season has been billed as a breakthrough year for Tom Dumoulin but, as the Giant-Alpecin rider points out to Cyclingnews, he has made incremental improvements each year since turning pro and nothing – not even Grand Tour pressure – is going to disrupt his path to the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
After a long season Dumoulin is enjoying a few weeks away from the spotlight and the furore that his fifth place in the Vuelta a Espana created. It was certainly an impressive performance from the 24-year-old, who until then had been pigeonholed as a capable one-day and week-long rider with an excellent time trial. Few saw his Vuelta performance coming, least of all Dumoulin himself, who had crashed out of the Tour de France the month before and spent several weeks out of competition. And although he cracked and lost the race on the final mountain stage in Spain, he has been tipped as a rider with a Grand Tour future, and even likened to Bradley Wiggins and Miguel Indurain.
“They say that every year about me, that I’ve had a breakthrough season and now they’re saying it again,” Dumoulin tells Cyclingnews.
“It means I’m still making huge steps, which is a good thing, and I’m happy about it. I’ve worked hard for it.”
Giant-Alpecin, the team that have developed Dumoulin since he joined the professional ranks in 2012, have provided the environment for a number of talented riders to flourish. In Dumoulin’s case he has moved up the ranks in the time trials and now sits alongside Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara, and Rohan Dennis when considering chrono specialists.
It’s not just nature that’s provided Dumoulin with the right development; nurture has been crucial too, with this year’s Tour de France almost a blessing in disguise. Had it not been for the first week crash and subsequent abandon, it’s unlikely that Dumoulin would have ridden the Vuelta or, at the very least, started it with such determination and desire.
“I learned a few things about preparation this year and I had my first altitude camp before the Tour de Suisse. I didn’t feel so good there but it was fast and maybe altitude didn’t make be fresh or ready but I learnt from that. I crashed out of the Tour, which was a shame, but I had a few weeks before the Vuelta.
“I really wanted to finish a Grand Tour because for the coming years it‘s the best way for the future. The main focus was to finish it, work for the team and make another step for the coming years. I had an another altitude camp and I trained really hard there. Then I was much, much better. The plan was to finish in a good way and go for stage wins but I felt so good that gradually I started going for the GC.
“I’m a rider who can prepare for a goal without racing. It has worked in the past with just training and it worked again. In terms of being good at the Vuelta, it was unfortunate to crash out of the Tour but it remains the biggest disappointment of my career. It’s strange that the biggest disappointment of my career provides the opportunity to have the biggest highlight.”
Rio Olympics over everything else
Since the Vuelta the inevitable questions has centred on whether Dumoulin could and should target a Grand Tour in the future. He has the engine, his time trialing is excellent, and his ability to hang on in the mountains has vastly moved on. While some have quickly allowed themselves to be swept off their feet with scenarios of seeing him take on Froome, Contador and Nibali, the man himself has remained humble – another quality that Grand Tour riders tend to exude. The focus for next season remains the Olympics, and a Grand Tour, although certain to feature in his programme, remains a second tier objective.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ve been asking the question of myself and faced it from journalists – when am I going to go for a Grand Tour? What’s next?" Dumoulin tells Cyclingnews.
"I’ve always said I don’t want to be rider who doesn’t have the level to be on the podium of a Grand Tour and then rides every day to end up ninth overall. That’s not what I want. I have my weapon, I have my time trial ability, so why would I question this ability or focus on ninth in a Grand Tour instead of focussing on victories? Victories are what it’s all about for me and I tried to go with that focus into the Vuelta.
“I would love to ride for GC in the future but also go for stage wins. That might not be next season, as Rio is my main focus. It’s possible to maybe do a GC and then Rio but we still need to find the way to do that. If it effects my Rio form then I won’t do that as Rio is the main aim. I hope the team protects me and they don’t go along with the flow from the fans that I need to go for Grand Tours now. I hope we can find the right balance."
It’s not just Dumoulin who has developed this season with a view to 2016; Giant-Alpecin have changed as a squad, too, with Marcel Kittel leaving for pastures new and added climbing support brought in to help Dumoulin and Warren Barguil – the team’s other GC hope – in the mountains.
“We talked about it before the Vuelta. Warren and I are improving in GC and I was doing GC in one-week WorldTour races and the team said they’d try and find us some more support," said Dumoulin. "We have that already, so if we put the right team in the right race we have a good team and its’ something we’ve already worked on, but it could be a little bit better.
"That doesn’t mean we need to throw away our abilities in the sprints – that’s what we have done best in the last year and that’s something we should keep on doing. I think that it’s possible to combine the two. “