Chris Froome versus Tom Dumoulin: it's a rivalry everyone's getting excited about, including Froome himself. The Tour de France champion said on Saturday that, whether it's at next year's Tour or further down the line, he's looking forward to a first proper face-off with the Dutchman.
Dumoulin, a natural time triallist, emerged as a possible Grand Tour winner at the 2015 Vuelta a España and he provided emphatic confirmation this year with overall victory at the Giro d'Italia. Froome collected a fourth Tour de France title in July with a minimum of fuss, but Dumoulin may well have positioned himself as the greatest threat to the Sky rider's hegemony.
"He's definitely part of the new generation of GC riders. He's someone who I haven't gone head-to-head with properly in the GC sense, so I definitely look forward to that challenge," said Froome, speaking in Shanghai ahead of the China Criterium. "It's good for me to have someone to really push me like that as well.
"It certainly wasn't a surprise to me when he won the Giro. Before the race I actually had a bet with some of my friends that he would win, and he proved me right. I saw that coming. It's been coming for some time now."
Dumoulin would certainly bring a fresh challenge to Froome. After blowing the competition away on summit finishes en route to victory in 2013 and 2015, Froome has made precious few gains in the mountains in the last two years, instead using the time trials to comfortably pull away from competitors such as Romain Bardet.
Against the world time trial champion, however, that would no longer seem to be a viable approach, and with Dumoulin there's the added complication – as he proved at the Giro against the likes of Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali – of him being a tough nut to crack on even the biggest mountains.
"He's obviously very different to my other rivals," said Froome. "He's the strongest time triallist in the world and very confident on the climbs as well.
"He knows how to pace himself. I'd say out of the other GC riders, he's the only one who really paces himself, even when there are the accelerations on the climbs. People see him get dropped but he's not actually dropped, he's just managing his pace. He's the only other GC rider I've seen doing that, which I think is a big skill to have as well."
It remains to be seen whether the much-anticipated showdown materialises next year, as both riders are awaiting the announcement of the 2018 Giro route in late November before confirming their race programmes.
The obvious next step for Dumoulin is to go to the Tour de France, but he insists he'll choose the one with the most favourable route. Given that there are just 31km of individual time trialling in the 2018 Tour, he could well choose the Giro.
Froome himself still hasn't ruled out targeting the Giro for the first time. He reiterated that his priority is to try to win a fifth Tour de France title but, after successfully pulling off the Tour-Vuelta double this year, he may be tempted to try and do what has eluded Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador in recent years.
"As it stands, there should be no reason why I'm not going be targeting the Tour next year," said Froome. "We haven't yet seen the Giro parcours, but it's a possibility – definitely.
"Certainly [I'd like to see] a few time trials – just a generally a good well-balanced route would be good to see. The Giro can always be hit and miss that time of year with the weather, so it depends also on how much of the race would be relatively further south with less chance of snow where the race would obviously run into problems. Obviously it's starting in Jerusalem – that's quite different. There are probably a few factors.”
One factor that Froome disregarded was the accumulation of Grand Tours, with a Giro-Tour double attempt making for four straight three-week races. Quintana recently cited his own run – which saw a podium at the 2016 Tour followed by victory at the Vuelta and a podium at the 2017 Giro – as a reason for his lacklustre showing at this year's Tour.
"Obviously I've had a good break now, so I don't necessarily see it as four in a row in that sense," said Froome. "I haven't kept going after the Vuelta, so I'm not too concerned about that. But obviously doing two Grand Tours in a row is tough already, and for the second one to be the Tour de France makes it even more challenging."