After waiting almost two hours in the hot seat for last man Chris Froome (Sky) to better his time, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) would have been forgiven for wanting to take his leave as soon as the curtain came down on the Tour de France's stage 18 time trial in Megève.
A Dutch television station required his presence for its post-stage analysis show, however, and then after talking his way through his 21-second defeat to Froome in his native language there, Dumoulin assented to doing it all over again in English for the Eurosport cameras almost immediately afterwards.
Sky manager Dave Brailsford was already being interviewed on the show, and Dumoulin could only smile when the Welshman metaphorically ruffled his hair by praising him and the Giant-Alpecin team for "really pushing forward and challenging us."
Dumoulin, a double stage winner on this Tour already and the favourite for Olympic time trial gold in Rio next month, had planned on doing rather more than simply challenging Froome in the 17-kilometre test, and he duly posted the quickest time after 10 kilometres, 10 seconds ahead of the yellow jersey. Froome managed a 31-second turnaround over the remainder of the course, however, and there was little to be done.
"Overall it's disappointing. I wanted to win, I was hoping for the win, especially when I saw his first check point because he was slower than me," Dumoulin told a group of reporters later. "I was hoping for it, but it was not in my favour today. It was a good TT, but not my very best, and so you don't win at this level on a course like this."
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Like Froome, Dumoulin opted to use his time trial bike for a test that defied easy definition, and the decision proved to be a sage one. The course climbed in stages from Sallanches, starting with the stiff Côte de Domancy, but it was by no means a simple mountain time trial. After beginning strongly, Dumoulin admitted that he paid for his efforts in the closing kilometres. Even before Froome finished, he suspected that he had not done enough to win.
"I think I went a bit too greedy in the first part, you can see that also in the intermediate times compared to Froome for example," he said. "I had some difficulties after the first part and eventually also the legs, they could be a bit better I guess. I'm disappointed with the result, but I think my time trial is pretty good. But to win it, I need to be more than pretty good."
When Dumoulin was the only man to beat Froome in the Ardèche time trial on Friday, he credited his victory in part to the fact that he had enjoyed the luxury of being able to sit up and lose 21 minutes on Mont Ventoux the previous day to save his legs for the stage. In the third week of the Tour, however, and on terrain less suited to pure time triallist, he had to give best to Froome.
"I was a long time in the hot seat and you want to win but eventually there was one guy stronger. He paced himself better. He went easier in the first part and then gained time afterwards on me, which was a good strategy," Dumoulin said. "But I think it's all about the legs, I think his legs were just a little bit better than mine."
Dumoulin and Froome will clash once again in Rio de Janeiro, and the Dutchman is approaching the final days of a countdown to the Olympic Games that has been more than two years in the planning.
Despite his fine Vuelta a España last season, Dumoulin declined to target the general classification in Grand Tours in 2016, preferring to stake his season on the Olympics, though his build-up has yielded two Tour stages, a Giro d'Italia stage win and a stint in the maglia rosa.
"I hope I can keep myself out of the red zone in the coming days, just finish the Tour and recover well afterwards," said Dumoulin, who will ride some criteriums in the Netherlands next week before flying to Brazil a week on Saturday. "Then hopefully I'll be flying in Rio. That's the plan but like you see today, it will be a hard fight in Rio, I guess."
Dumoulin was cautious, meanwhile, when asked if he might challenge Froome over three weeks in 2017, though his solo victory at Arcalis in the Pyrenees was testament to his progress in the mountains.
"I've learned on this Tour that I'm a good rider when I really go for it in a TT or in a mountain stage," he said. "But if I want to go for GC in a Grand Tour, then I definitely need to make another step."
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