By Jean-François Quénet in Adelaide
Until the very end, Samuel Dumoulin has tried to beat Cadel Evans for the King of the Mountains prize at the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under. But his main job, to protect the overall lead of his AG2R team leader Simon Gerrans, has made that tricky.
"Unfortunately I was lacking information about how many riders had stayed away," Dumoulin said of the final stage and its two KOM ascents of Montefiore Hill. "I won the [second KOM] sprint ahead of Evans, but there were only three riders left in the front. If there were four, I think I'd have won the KOM, but it doesn't matter really. The essential issue for me was to make sure Simon was safe for winning the overall classification."
Playing the role of a domestique, Dumoulin finished sixth on GC in the 2006 Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, his second time taking part in the Australian stage race. He was an active member of the breakaway on day one, where he started chasing points for the KOM classification, but on day three, Evans was in the break and the Frenchman had no choice but give priority to the defense of Gerrans' leader jersey. At the end, his team-mate became the first rider to keep the lead from start to finish since the event was created back in 1999.
"When we got here in Adelaide, we made it clear inside the team that we had to keep winning this race every three years," Dumoulin said. AG2R's Gilles Maignan won the JCTDU in 2000 and Mikel Astarloza took the GC for the team in 2003. AG2R have been faithful to the South Australian event since the beginning, and this year theteam made sure it sent a competitive squad once again. The 2006 JCTDU squad was the core of the team that will line up for Paris-Nice's squad with Gerrans, Dumoulin, Sylvain Calzati and Cyril Dessel. The three French riders are all from the same area near Lyon. They've known each other for years and Gerrans got on really well with them as soon as he joined the team one year ago.
Before 2005, AG2R team manager Vincent Lavenu had never sent a neo-pro to the Tour de France in all the years since the team started as Chazal-Vanille et Mûre in 1992. Even Alexandre Vinokourov had had to wait his turn. But Simon Gerrans did such a good job in Spring last year that he forced open the doors of the Tour de France team and landed AG2R's best stage finish in the 2005 Tour when he ran third in Revel behind Paolo Savoldelli and Kurt-Asle Arvesen. Dumoulin is probably his closest friend in the team. "I've had a great week working for Simon," he said. "I was also a protected rider in the team and it was actually easier to ride in the front of the bunch. I was trying to give directions to the other guys for Simon to save as much energy as possible. He's been great and all of us have loved backing him."
25 years old Dumoulin may be a little guy at 1.59m but he's got big ambitions for himself as well. He was the winner of a stage in the Dauphiné Libéré last year, so he hasn't waited for AG2R to become a ProTour team before winning something in the ProTour. "I want to keep improving," he said. "I'm ready to take any other opportunity to win a big race. I know that I won't win the hardest mountain stages or the big bunch sprints, but any transition stage or a race finishing in a sprint without the best sprinters, I'll give it a go. I'm not the guy for winning GC in the biggest races but I'll try to do what Simon has done this week. We will not necessarily wait for 2009 for giving AG2R another win at the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under."