It might not have been possible in Utrecht in the Tour de France in July 2015, but at the 2016 Giro d'Italia start in Apeldoorn Holland’s Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) more than lived up to massive local expectations to win the opening short time trial and claim the first pink leader's jersey.
The Maastricht-born rider’s winning margin on a fast, flat 9.8-kilometre course was a very small one, less than two hundredths of a second over Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo). He was not, he said afterwards, convinced he had turned in his best time trial performance, either. But as Dumoulin put it, “it could have been one hundredth of a second or a minute or ten minutes margin for my victory, I don’t care. The important thing was winning.”
Fourth in the Utrecht prologue of the Tour de France was one big disappointment last year and so too, was how close Dumoulin came to taking Holland’s first Vuelta a España win since 1979 that September - before it all fell apart on the very last mountain stage. Ultimately the 2015 Vuelta a España represented both huge progress for Dumoulin on a personal level towards GC contention followed by considerable disappointment at such a last-minute defeat. But in Dumoulin’s next Grand Tour, on home soil in the Giro d’Italia on a brilliantly warm, sunny May afternoon in the town of Apeldoorn, this time there were no such mixed feelings to ruin his race.
“In cycling, plans mostly don’t come together, because it’s pretty hard to win races in this sport,” Dumoulin reasoned.
“I was unlucky in one time trial in the Tour Romandie [which he lost a time trial to Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) by two seconds] but here I was very, very lucky. Two hundredths of a second is really nothing. This time I was on the right side of luck.
“I meant it when I said, it would be very difficult to win here and maybe my chances on the stage nine time trial are actually higher. But I did it and it’s beautiful.”
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The questions about Utrecht and last July, almost inevitably, piled up in the press conference, with Dumoulin arguing that having been through a very similar build-up last year to a Grand Tour opening time trial challenge, the more familiar approach path in the countdown to Apeldoorn helped soothe his pre-race nerves.
“I was definitely more relaxed, although if I look at the time trial itself, I don’t think it was much worse than this, only the result is better,” Dumoulin argued. “Even when I win a race, I’m still thinking about whether I should have taken this or that line on a corner. Perfection doesn’t exist, although for sure I did better cornering than in Utrecht.”
There were also other, minor, details which helped him through, such as “a better pair of headphones, which meant I could actually hear something” - which had proved impossible in Utrecht, where the crowds were so noisy all the orders and instructions from the following team car could not be heard. He did not, in any case, get informed that he had clocked the fastest time gap, two seconds up on Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) after just under five kilometres, because he said, “I am going as hard as I can and that doesn’t matter. Knowing I am ahead doesn’t make any difference. You have to believe in yourself.”
But for all it was a narrow victory, his only one clear error, it turned out, was after the stage when Dumoulin initially thought he had won by three seconds over Roglic. In fact, it was “much less, and it wasn’t my best time trial, either, but it doesn’t matter. I won anyway.”
Winning a Grand Tour prologue in front of a home crowd, particularly when combined with the warm reception Apeldoorn and the Netherlands have given the Giro d’Italia, have made that success an exceptional experience, Dumoulin said.
“It was really special, the whole of Apeldoorn was pink and it was like riding through a wall of noise,” Dumoulin said, “I think there will a lot more people out on the roads for the two remaining stages.” The Giro has proved so popular that even the King of the Netherlands was present on Friday in Apeldoorn, following Dumoulin in the team car and then being one of the first to congratulate him afterwards.
“He said he had nine minutes scheduled to follow me in the car and I told him that might be pretty tough to do!” Dumoulin, who finally clocked a time of eleven minutes and three seconds, said afterwards. “But he’s also a cycling fan, as well as other sports, and it’s special to have met him and have a bit of a conversation with him.”
Although Dumoulin argued what he called “the big pressure point” is now behind him, the question of how long the 25-year-old can now defend the leader’s jersey’s as the Giro wends its way through Holland for the next two days is now beginning to loom.
“Our goal is to defend the pink jersey as long as possible, but I didn’t come here with a GC goal,” Dumoulin commented. “I didn’t do any altitude training beforehand and it’ll be difficult for me in the high mountains. But we have a good team here and we will try and defend it as long as possible.”
For Giant-Alpecin, the win represents a huge breakthrough, given Dumoulin took what was their first victory of the 2016 season, and Giant-Alpecin are in fact the last team of the WorldTour to savour success this year. It was also Holland’s first pink jersey since Pieter Weening held the lead for four days in the first week of the 2011 Giro d’Italia. However, the wait was surely worth it.
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