Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) has confirmed that he will target the general classification at a Grand Tour in 2017. The Olympic silver medallist shelved plans to do so this year as he concentrated on Rio, but with the Games now behind him he will begin the next phase of his career as a three-week specialist.
The Giant-Alpecin leader laid out his plans for 2017 in an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews at the Tour of Britain. It is not yet known which of the three Grand Tours he will target, with the rider and his team set to make the final decision later this year when all three routes have been announced.
"I'm targeting a Grand Tour next year. I don't know which one, probably the one with the most time trial kilometres," Dumoulin said with a broad smile as he sat down with Cyclingnews in Glasgow.
"Or the team might have another idea but we'll have to see and look at the courses and then decide. Maybe it won't be the one with the most time trial kilometres but we're going to choose one that suits me the best. I'm going to target GC."
The 25-year-old burst onto the Grand Tour scene at the 2015 Vuelta a Espana. He won two stages and led the race until the decisive final day in the mountains. He came unstuck there and lost the race to Fabio Aru, eventually finishing 6th overall in Madrid. Despite dropping down the standings, it was a breakthrough period in Dumoulin's career.
In order to make the grade as a genuine three-week contender Dumoulin admits that his preparation and approach to training must be modified. More time at altitude must be carried out and nutrition will take higher priority over the coming season.
"I know a lot about nutrition and in the last couple of years I've been quite busy with it but I think there's more to gain there," he added.
Yet any gains Dumoulin can make must be measured and methodical. He is one of the best time triallists on the planet, of that there's no doubt, but there is the danger that if he concentrates on improving his climbing then his natural ability against the clock could suffer. History is littered with time triallists who lost too much weight, and therefore power, in their pursuit for physical perfection.
"I hope that I don't have to give up anything," he said. “Until now I've been losing a little bit of weight and it's not been affecting my power. At some time it is going to affect me but we can only try. Maybe next will be disappointing because we try too hard but you only know your limits when you reach them. It's all about trying to go further in the next couple of years."
And while there are examples of time triallists who have pushed the pursuit of climbing excellence too far, Dumoulin points to one rider who has shown that the transition is possible.
"Bradley Wiggins has proved that it's possible to be a time triallist, and that with losing weight you can become a Grand Tour winner. I'm definitely looking at examples like him."
The Tour of Britain marked the beginning of the final phase in Dumoulin's season. After a season that barely broke from warp speed, the build-up to the British race allowed the Dutchman to assess his year to date. He would eventually finish within the top three overall when the race reached London, with Eneco Tour the next stop as he builds towards the World Championships in Doha.
"I'm satisfied with my season so far," he said.
"Everything is now a bonus. If I'm riding really badly over the next couple of week, of course I'll be disappointed, but I'll still look back at a very successful year."
Dumoulin's – and, indeed, Giant-Alpecin's – first win of the year didn't come until the first stage of the Giro d'Italia but once the dam had been breached the floodgates opened. He led the Giro – bar for one day – until stage 8 before a saddle sore saw him depart. A national time trial title followed before two emphatic but utterly different stage wins were taken at the Tour de France.
However the Olympics, the centrepiece of his season, was put into jeopardy by a crash in the Tour's final week. Dumoulin left the race with a fractured wrist and Rio at risk.
"The most difficult moment for me was when I stepped into the team car. I had ridden a few kilometres on the climb but I knew right away that it was broken. I got in the car and thought my Olympics were over. The whole year I had been in this bubble heading towards the Olympics and then all of a sudden it was over. That was the most difficult moment," he said.
"I had another difficult moment when I got to Rio. When I was given the information that it was a good fracture I picked up training and it went quite well actually. I did four hours the day before I left and I was getting more and more confident. Then I got there and it just started to get worse and worse and I needed to take time off again. It was just too much pain on the rough roads. We decided to skip the road race because it was too big of a risk."
Tom Dumoulin still started the road race but climbed off near the start. He headed back to the team hotel and watched the rest of the race unfold. Until that point he was still the favourite but as the race opened up, he and everyone else watching noticed that Fabian Cancellara was among the contenders at the pointy end of the action. It was a sign of things to come with the veteran Swiss rider rolling back the years to take a famous victory.
Dumoulin was forced to concede and settle for silver, with Chris Froome snatching bronze.
"I didn't have a super day and I needed a super day in order to beat Cancellara. I was surprised with his ride but not after I saw how he was riding in the road race. He'd not beaten me in a long time but when I went back to the hotel and watched the road race unfold I realised that he might play a big role in the TT. I was right.
"There's still a slight disappointment because I won the Tour de France time trial with quite a good advantage. At that point I thought I'd go to Rio with one goal on my mind and that was winning gold, and of course I didn't make that. But after I broke my wrist, and all the doubt, stress and emotion, I'm really proud of the result that I had there."
After such a demanding season on the road, Dumoulin can look forward to a well-earned rest once the small matter of the Worlds are out of the way. Which Grand Tour he decided to ride is still unknown but 2017 is sure to be another exciting ride.
"This has been a year with so many goals. Normally you put a pin in the spring and say 'I want to be good at this race' and then you take some time off and then you work towards the Tour and then you take off time, and then it's Worlds. This year, pretty much since April, it's been one long roller coaster."