Dumoulin has been here before. It was less than a year ago that the Dutchman found himself on home soil, but at the Tour de France, with the expectations of a nation weighing on his shoulders. Cycling's most famous race would start with a time trial in Utrecht, and Dumoulin was widely tipped to become the first Dutchman in 25 years to don the maillot jaune - in front of a home audience.
“Everyone in Holland already thought I had the yellow jersey, and that was completely not realistic,” Dumoulin told Cyclingnews in hindsight.
He was speaking in Apeldoorn ahead of the 2016 Giro d’Italia - another Grand Tour, another start in Holland, another time trial. That, naturally, has brought with it another bout of public attention, media demand, and national expectation.
Dumoulin concedes that he was “distracted” by everything that came with the Grand Départ last year but insists “that’s all a bit less” for this Grande Partenza. “Because I had that experience last year, my mental state is different.”
One of the main indications that his mindset is different is the manner he has approached his reconnaissance of the 9.8km Apeldoorn course. Whereas his preparations for Utrecht were meticulous – he travelled out in May to see it for the first time and studied it on several more occasions – this time the Giro is just two days away and he’s yet to cast eyes on the course.
“Last May we went to Utrecht to see the course, they blocked the road for me and I had a good look at it. On the day itself, I knew the course but I could have done some corners better, and that’s very strange for someone who has seen it six times, so that means I wasn’t focused on the right things," Dumoulin explained in his pre-Giro press conference on Wednesday.
“Sometimes I only see a course once and I can dream it - I know every corner exactly. In Utrecht, I saw it six times and I still didn’t really know it.
“It’s all about focus, so I thought I could spend the time better and just see it [the Apeldoorn course] tomorrow [Friday] and on the day itself. In Romandie, I only saw the time trial course in the morning of the time trial itself. I did it one time on the bike and one time in the car and I knew everything, so I’m not afraid that this course will be any trouble.”
Dumoulin will have to hope his photographic memory is in full working order because, he joked, he’ll have little chance of hearing any team instructions in his earpiece amid the din expected to be created by the home crowds.
“Last year at the Tour it was amazing; I was riding through a wall of noise and I couldn’t hear anything on my radio. We had a whole plan worked with tactical information but I didn’t hear anything – it was just really special.
“It’s good weather in Holland and people are really excited so I probably won’t hear my radio again, so I’ll have to make sure I know everything.”
Cancellara the favourite
As was the case 10 months ago, Dumoulin will be the red-hot favourite for Friday’s opening time trial in the collective mind of the Dutch public. It’s not an opinion, however, that the rider himself shares. Cancellara, he says, is the man to beat, and beating him on a pan-flat course is going to be quite the headache.
“The main rival is Cancellara, then you have guys like Jos van Emden, and [World Champion - Vasil] Kiryienka. I didn’t have a look at the complete start list, but you have those three, and of those three Cancellara is the main favourite," said the Dutchman.
“If he has his legs from Tirreno [Adriatico] then it will be very difficult for me to beat him. Every year it’s the same time trial course at Tirreno and this year he did it in a time I don’t think would be possible for me on a flat course."
Dumoulin predicts it’s more than a possibility he’ll end up second place, one step off the top of the podium. It’s an occurrence that has become something of a trend this season; the 25-year-old has ridden three races against the clock and has finished second on each occasion.
“It bothers me because I just want to win but at the same time, it motivates me. It’s not like I’m craving for a victory or I’m lost without a victory,” he said.
“I wish I would live longer in the flow of a victory – whenever I get a victory, I love that feeling but already the next day I’m down to earth and back to normal. That same feeling goes for disappointment, but then it’s a good thing.”
Dumoulin acknowledged he was philosophical about his two defeats at last week’s Tour de Romandie – one a 4km prologue and the other a 15km time trial – and he insisted he would find similar consolation amid the disappointment if well beaten on Friday.
“In Romandie it was quite disappointing, and I cursed a little bit afterwards – especially the second time trial when I was so close – but the next day I was a happy person again. I did two really good time trials, made no mistakes and twice there was someone better – that’s easy to cope with.”
The string of near misses, combined with the re-emergence of the cauldron of home excitement and expectation, might contribute to an intensification of pressure, but he maintains he's staying calm amid the fanfare.
“I don’t feel more pressure, definitely not from the team and not from the outside. But I also feel myself that it would be nice if we have a victory. I don’t feel any pressure; the only pressure is from myself," he said.
“The pressure I put on myself is maybe smaller. I know better how to cope with these things than last year, and that makes a huge difference.”
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