The international scrum of reporters and television crews that crowded around Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) could tell that he was angry, incandescently angry at the finish of stage 19 of the Tour de France, but only the Dutch speakers in the party could immediately decipher why.
Dumoulin reached in Laruns in 6th place, 19 seconds behind winner Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), who had escaped the yellow jersey group on the sweeping descent of the Col d'Aubisque. On crossing the line, Dumoulin was immediately shepherded to the other side of the barriers, where Sunweb press officer Bennie Ceulen had helpfully placed his rollers so that he could warm down as he performed his media duties.
Regardless of the result, Dumoulin usually cuts a serene, smiling figure in such situations, but as he spoke animatedly with Ceulen, it was clear that something was awry. His exasperation was even more evident as he sat back aboard his bike and began to field questions from Dutch television, his responses punctuated by sighs, shrugged shoulders and disbelieving smiles.
After a time, a question was tentatively lobbed in his direction in English – "Tom, what happened at the end, why are you so upset?" – and Dumoulin courteously explained his fury all over again for the benefit of an international audience. All in a day's work on the Tour de France.
"Primoz was the strongest today and I have a lot of respect for his victory and he was flying downhill," Dumoulin said. "But, eventually, I got dropped on a straight part. He was on his top tube, full in the slipstream of the motorbike. I was sprinting to get on his wheel and I couldn't get any closer. I was dropped on the only straight part of the downhill. It's ridiculous."
It is not the first time that the television motorbikes have been a source of contention on this Tour. On stage 15, Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) highlighted the part they had played in pacing the peloton back up to him following his attack on the Pic de Nore. The stakes were even higher in Laduns on Friday, where stage victory and the final podium of the Tour were in play.
Dumoulin was careful to stress that he did not attach blame to Roglic – "He can't do anything about it, he was the strongest and got a nice victory" – and he dismissed the idea of lodging some sort of appeal to the commissaires. A follow-up question of the 'Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?' variety, meanwhile, was met with a frank response: "I'm fucking disappointed."
Head-to-head with Roglic for time trial
Dumoulin began the Tour's final day in the Pyrenees still clutching hopefully to the possibility that he might yet dislodge Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) from the yellow jersey and, despite another assured showing in the high mountains, he ended it knowing that his second place overall is now seriously at risk.
As anticipated, Dumoulin held his fire over the mighty Col du Tourmalet, but he made a brace of searing efforts to put Thomas under pressure on the Col du Soulor, which segued into the final haul up to the Aubisque. The Dutchman's accelerations put Chris Froome (Team Sky) in difficulty, but they could not trouble Thomas. Nearer the summit, meanwhile, Roglic began his offensive, and the Slovenian led a reduced yellow jersey group at the top.
"It was a heavy stage," Dumoulin said. "I couldn't take over from Primoz on the climb. I was on the limit."
Roglic continued to pile on the pressure on the mist-shrouded drop over the other side, where his forcing through each hairpin stretched the front group a little further. A little under 10 kilometres from home, he opened a discernible gap. Dumoulin battled to peg him back, but Roglic would not be seen again until the finish in Laruns.
"It was up to me to close it, because I also made the gap," Dumoulin said of the chase effort in the yellow jersey group. "Froome helped a bit. And that's it."
Thomas clipped away to claim the sprint for second place on the stage, and the six-second time bonus means that Dumoulin now trails the Welshman by 2:05 in the overall standings. Two days from Paris, Tour victory now seems a formality for Thomas.
Perhaps more pressingly for Dumoulin, his lead over Roglic is down to just 19 seconds ahead of Saturday's 31km time trial to Espelette.
In Bergen last September, Dumoulin beat Roglic into second place at the World Championships in the discipline, but he struck a downbeat note about his prospects of staving off the Slovenian here. The momentum, it seems, is all with Roglic.
"I think he will beat me," Dumoulin said quietly. "We will see."
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