In January, Tom Dumoulin started an open-ended leave of absence from cycling, saying he needed to 'get things clear in my head about what I want' after years of struggling to live up to the promise his 2017 Giro d'Italia victory brought. But in recent weeks, the Dutch star has put a comeback plan in the works. In a press conference on Monday, Dumoulin outlined his objectives and explained how he found his path back to pro cycling with an unannounced visit to Amstel Gold Race in April.
"In Amstel Gold Race I really felt the itch again. I thought it was really cool there, and discovered that I thought professional cycling was a very cool world. A few days after Amstel, I had an exploratory conversation with Richard Plugge and indicated that the Olympic Games were still in the back of my mind," Dumoulin said according to Wielerflits.nl.
Dumoulin turned professional in 2012 with Argos-Shimano, the organisation which is now Team DSM, and quickly made a name for himself, winning his first Grand Tour stages at the 2015 Vuelta a España and spending six days in the race leader's jersey and finished sixth overall – his first showing as a Grand Tour contender. In 2016, he won the Giro d'Italia opening stage on home soil and wore the maglia rosa for six days, then won two stages in the Tour de France including a summit finish in Andorra. He cemented himself as a legend in the Netherlands with his 2017 Giro d'Italia victory and time trial world title - several different songs were even written about him.
In 2018, he raced both the Giro and Tour de France, taking second in both. But in 2019, he suffered a crash in the Giro d'Italia that injured his knee, then fell out with his team, Sunweb, over how it was managed. He made a shift to Jumbo-Visma mid-contract, but returned from his injury amid the coronavirus pandemic and struggled to match his previous level although he finished seventh in the Tour in 2020, a feat most riders would consider a success.
When he abruptly announced his leave of absence and left the Jumbo-Visma team camp in January, the team rallied around him, with Wout van Aert saying he hoped Dumoulin could come back stronger, Marcel Kittel – who retired early – stating Dumoulin was staying true to himself.
Dumoulin explained that he had difficulty processing all that had gone on in his career. "So much has happened that I hadn't really given it a place yet," he said. "Life as a top athlete is progressing at full speed. That started to squeeze in such a way that I became physically bad and tired. I was no longer riding well and had very little fun on the bike anymore. I didn't know where that came from. That is why I made that decision to stop for a while at the end of January."
He spent his first weeks away from the team revelling in freedom with no pressure to train. "At first I rested a lot – walked a lot with the dog, dug the garden, walked a lot with friends and acquaintances. And a lot of talking, not necessarily with the aim of finding a solution. In the first period I did not touch the bike anymore, but after a few weeks I started to feel like it again and I gradually started to like it more."
After finding inspiration with his Amstel Gold Race visit, Dumoulin contacted the Dutch national team coach Koos Moerenhout to see if there would be an opening for him in the team for the Olympic Games.
"The door is still open, but the selection is getting closer," was the answer, and Dumoulin had to act fast. "That was the trigger for me to really get serious about it. Then I quickly made the decision: I want to go for it. I still like to ride a bike, I still ride fast and I have had the Olympics in the back of my mind for five years now. Those three things persuaded me to return. Then I sat with Richard, Merijn Zeeman and Mathieu Heijboer. We decided quickly."
Dumoulin's first race back with the team is expected to be the Tour de Suisse (June 6-13) followed by the Dutch national championships and, if he is selected, the Olympic Games road race and time trial at the end of July.
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