As he builds towards the Giro d’Italia, Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) has returned to Liège-Bastogne-Liège for what is a last test of race condition prior to the first main goal of his season, which gets underway in Israel on May 4.
Talking to journalists on Saturday afternoon, Dumoulin seemed laid back and cheerful, as well as looking in good shape. But given that his last race was at Milano-San Remo, in which he finished 31st, Dumoulin was understandably non-committal about his chances in a race as demanding as Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Although determined to do his best on Sunday and shine if he has a chance, the Dutch racer, who hails from nearby Maastricht, is far from being the first Grand Tour specialist to be parachuted into the Ardennes as at least a partial test of his form prior to the summer. Recent participations by Chris Froome (Team Sky) in Liege in 2013 and 2016, and in Fleche Wallonne in 2015 are a case in point.
But in Dumoulin’s case, Liège-Bastogne-Liège comes less than two weeks before the Giro start in Israel, rather than Froome’s much longer-term goals in the Tour de France in previous years. As a result, the Dutchman’s ride on Sunday will come under closer scrutiny.
“This is one of the nicest races in the calendar, the whole week with Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege is one I really like, a week that’s very special to me and it’s just unfortunate I couldn’t do it all because of altitude camp.”
Given the usual degree of uncertainty about whether his good form in training will be reflected when he starts turning the pedals in anger, Dumoulin will have a free role in the team on Sunday.
“Here Michael Matthews is our leader and he’s a sort of climber/sprinter type of guy who should wait until really long into the race to make his move or go for the sprint,” Dumoulin said. “And you have someone like me who’s a kind of bonus – if I have the legs.”
Quite apart from Amstel Gold being his home race, Dumoulin said the fact that both the Dutch Classic and Flèche Wallonne had been very unpredictable kinds of events had increased his desire to take part in the Ardennes Classics this year.
“They’re very different kinds of races this year. I watched them and I hope it’ll be a similar sort of scenario on Sunday and that the race will be really open in the final, that would good for me,” he said.
“But essentially all depends on the legs and I hope they are good after a while of not racing. So I’m happy to be here at least.”
Asked if he had been watching Chris Froome, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and the other Giro contenders in action in the Tour of the Alps, Dumouin was notably less talkative. “I saw the results and watched one stage on TV,” he said. “But I feel good.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Dumoulin will receive his own key indication as to how ready he is for Israel – and Italy.
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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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