In his winners press conference Tom Dumoulin (Giant Alpecin) was asked what was going on in his mind as he approached the line in Arcalis to take a memorable stage win at the Tour de France. His response, light-hearted but not entirely sponsor-friendly, had the press corp entertained but not as much as his classy ride through the hail in the Pyrenees.
Dumoulin has moved into a special bracket of riders in the last 12 months with his purring time trial style and verve in the mountains blending together to create an eclectically impressive palmares. His last seven wins are: a mountain stage in the Tour, a national title, a stage and spell in pink at the Giro, two stages and several days in red in the Vuelta, and two wins in the Tour de Suisse.
What made his stage 9 win to Arcalis so impressive was the manner in which Dumoulin rode. After spending the first week nursing an illness he jumped into Sunday's major break and tapped through at the front just enough to stay on the safe side of his companions. He shooed away the notion of winning a single KOM point and allowed Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Rafa Majka (Tinkoff) to work each other over in a scrap that weakened them both. Finally, when the Dutchman attacked with 12 kilometres to go his acceleration was as decisive as it was instinctive.
"I was really not feeling good a few days ago. I started to feel better and this morning I felt a lot better and decided to go. I didn't do much in the break but I was one of the strongest, if not the strongest, and I’m a time trialist. If I have a gap then it’s difficult to close it."
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He built a lead close to a minute as the chase half-heartedly mounted a challenge on the final climb, and when Majka and Rui Costa brought the lead down to 40 seconds with four-kilometres to go, the stage win was still in the balance.
"I still was worried it might come back and I felt my power was going down. I wasn't using a powermeter. I was just going full gas and I was feeling that I was slowing, so I was a bit scared but no one came back. It was a really special day.
"It's incredible. I can’t describe it with words. A few day ago if you had told me that I would have won the stage to Andorra, the hardest stage in the Tour, then I would have said that you were crazy. But suddenly it came together with good legs and an attack at the right time. I’m so, so happy."
GC questions return
Whenever Dumoulin wins, the inevitable questions surrounding his GC aspirations return and Andorra was no exception. He's faced these questions since his sterling ride in the Vuelta last year, when he combined his time trial power with a newfound ability to race in the high mountains.
In this year's Tour a GC tilt is not an option. The Giant rider lost too much time in the first week due to illness and his long-term goal for the summer remains the Olympic Games time trial. He made the valid point that stage wins in the Tour were more important than grovelling to 12th in Paris.
"I still have to make another step, or two or three to get to the level of these guys. I wasn't feeling that good in the first week anyway so I couldn't have ridden for the GC but it's also not really worth it for me to ride for 12th place if I can win a stage like this, because it's worth so much more. I also don't think I'm good enough to ride in the top 10 now, but I hope to make a few steps and maybe I will try it in the future. I know that I can pick my days in the Tour and help the team.”
"On a good day I can climb well. To do GC at the Tour is still a lot to ask and you need to be on point for three weeks. That's not what I wanted before the Tour and with the Olympics because it's better to pick my days. If I was riding for GC I probably wouldn't have won today. I’m just really, really happy for today."
What were you thinking when you came towards the line, one journalist asked:
"Can I be honest? 'I fucking did it' that’s what was going on in my mind."
Super happy, a little bit sweaty but after winning at Andorra, he could get away with it.