For now at least, Tom Dumoulin is happy to be the third man. Despite his recent run of form and his season-long consistency, the Dutchman lines up for his debut in the elite World Championships time trial largely overshadowed by the two marquee names in the field in Ponferrada, Tony Martin and Bradley Wiggins.
It is, of course, hard to quibble with the pedigree of the men topping the bill. The Worlds time trial has become Martin’s personal fiefdom in recent years and the German is chasing his fourth successive title, while Wiggins has twice finished second to Martin at the Worlds and beat him to Olympic gold in London two years ago.
In only his third year as a professional, Dumoulin has some way to go to amass that kind of palmarès, yet over the course of 2014, he has quietly set about positioning himself firmly towards the upper reaches of the time trialling hierarchy.
The 24-year-old has won individual time trials at Critérium International, the Dutch championships, the Eneco Tour and the Tour of Alberta this season, and, perhaps more tellingly, he was second only to Martin in the long final time trial at the Tour de France in July. It’s not by chance that the bookmakers installed Dumoulin as the third favourite ahead of the Worlds, and he does not shirk that kind of expectation.
“I would be really happy with a podium place, but then maybe I could be satisfied afterwards with fifth place too if it was my maximum level,” Dumoulin told Cyclingnews in Ponferrada. “I know a little bit about what I can manage to do, so if I do that and it’s only a fifth place then I can be satisfied for this year. But I hope to do better and I hope for a medal.”
Dumoulin was pragmatic, however, about the prospect of upstaging the two men who top the bill on Wednesday afternoon. Martin’s dominance against the watch over the past couple of seasons has been total, as was the case for Fabian Cancellara during his reign, and at 29 years of age, he appears to be at the peak of his powers. On the evidence of his showing in Sunday’s team time trial, meanwhile, Wiggins appears to have prepared assiduously for this test.
“Tony is for sure on another level and I think Wiggins on good form is still better than me, normally,” Dumoulin said. “I would be really happy with third for this year. Maybe next year I would be more ambitious but I think if Tony has a normal day or a good day, then he’s unbeatable for me at the moment. I have to be realistic about it.”
Dumoulin arrives in Spain fresh from an impressive Canadian campaign, where he finished second overall at the Tour of Alberta, second at the GP de Québec and 6th at the GP de Montréal. The team time trial, where he led Giant-Shimano to 8th place, was a useful blow-out ahead after returning from across the Atlantic. “I had to get going a little bit because in the first part I was feeling not so good but in the end I was going really well,” he said. “I felt really strong.”
A feature of the time trials across all levels thus far has been the importance of the final climb on the parcours, and the finale of the elite men’s course is more difficult still, with two uphill portions in the last 15 kilometres or so. Dumoulin raced over that last section during Sunday’s team time trial and, not surprisingly for a man who climbs well enough to finish 5th at the Tour de Suisse, he liked what he saw.
“That will suit me well and maybe it’s a little bit of an advantage when it’s more uphill because of my weight compared to the other time triallists, but we will see,” Dumoulin said, though he is mindful that Martin and Wiggins will hardly be daunted by the Confederacion and Mirador.
“I mean, in the end, the course doesn’t really matter. In the end, all the best time triallists will do the best on every course,” he said. Wednesday might provide further proof that he is among them.