New Vuelta a Espana leader Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) didn’t quite scratch his head when he was asked after stage 5 what kind of rider he considered himself to be, but the 24-year-old certainly admitted he was increasingly unsure.
"That’s a very good question," Dumoulin said, "I am asking myself more and more what kind of a rider I am, too. I am still a time triallist, and that’s where I’ve got all my victories as a professional so far, but I’m starting to climb very well, too. It’s all progressing, and who knows what my limits are?
"I haven’t tried to go for a general classification in a Grand Tour, but maybe from now on I should start looking at week-long stage races in one part of the season and just focus on the time trials in the other."
Dumoulin’s versatility has already seen the Giant-Alpecin pro take a second place in the GP Quebec and sixth in Montreal last year, so one-day racing is perhaps another new string to his bow, too.
On Wednesday Dumoulin ruled out even thinking about fighting for a Grand Tour GC at least until next year at the earliest. But in the 2015 Vuelta, after his second place in El Caminito del Rey and a 13th place in the front group at Vejer de la Frontera, staying near the front on a stiff uphill finish at Alcalá de Guadaira earned Dumoulin the Netherland’s first Vuelta lead since Bauke Mollema in 2011.
On stage 5, Dumoulin finished 15th, two seconds back, whilst Chaves was 21st, a further six seconds behind. The tiny gap between the two meant that Dumoulin is now one second ahead overall - and the new race leader.
“It feels weird to get the jersey; I didn’t know I’d got it," Dumoulin said afterwards. "And in fact I was already at the bus when I heard about it. Before that I was disappointed and a little pissed off because my plan had been to help [teammate] John [Degenkolb] go for the sprint, and that didn’t work out. Then I heard through the race radio that I needed to go to the podium because we had the leader’s jersey.
"It was a surprise, but a good one," said Dumoulin. It's not the first for him in the Vuelta either, as he makes an impressive comeback from a bad crash and dislocated shoulder in the 2015 Tour de France’s stage 3.
"Today [after Degenkolb’s near-miss] I’ve got mixed feelings about the stage, but personally I have to say I’m happy with how things worked out for me. I wanted yellow in the Tour [but had to settle for fourth in the opening time trial in front of a home crowd at Utrecht], but here I am in the lead instead."
It was, he said, a little bit of redemption after the disappointment and injuries of the Tour. The question of how long he can remain in the Vuelta lead is harder to predict.
"Tomorrow [with a summit finish] is a hard stage, but I’m not giving this one up without a fight," he argued. After that, the time trial in Burgos remains his main goal of the Vuelta, and "the World’s is at the back of my mind, too."
"Suisse [where he won two stages and finished third overall] this year was a reminder that I have to take my chances whenever I can, use good legs whenever I can use them.
"If I had done Suisse at 90 percent and then had my crash at the Tour, I would have had nothing. When I look at that, I know I have to take my chances. Hopefully at the World Championships I will have that chance again."
Meanwhile, a red leader’s jersey from the 2015 Vuelta is already in Dumoulin’s suitcase - together with some pleasurably complicated questions about exactly where his future as a racer could lie.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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