‘Big Tom, Big Tom!’ Poking his head through the barriers past the finish line at Rifugio Sapienza, a merry tifoso was trying to draw the attention of Tom Dumoulin, but it was never likely to be the time or the place for a selfie.
Over nine minutes had passed since Lennard Kämna won stage 4 of the Giro d’Italia by the time Dumoulin completed his own ascent of Mount Etna. More pertinently, over six had passed since the rest of the favourites for overall victory had sprinted for the line. His maglia rosa challenge was already over with 17 stages still to go.
“I’m just not feeling good. It’s like that. I worked hard to get here in the best shape possible,” Dumoulin told reporters when he stopped past the finish line, his ardent Sicilian tifoso still gamely trying to draw his attention from the roadside.
“Everything was OK. But I just don’t have the legs at the moment. I don’t know why, but it is like it is.”
A solid showing in the opening time trial in Budapest encouraged guarded hope that Dumoulin could replicate the form that carried him to overall victory in this race five years ago. That illusion was stripped away a little over 8km from the finish, just as the woodland at the base of the mountain began to give way to sparse fields of blackened rock.
Dumoulin was dropped by the sizeable group of favourites there, not long after the gradient had briefly kicked up to 14%, the first of the contenders to drop away. Another past winner, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan) would yield a little further up the volcano, but Dumoulin’s losses were the heaviest of the afternoon. He had prepared for this Giro in Tenerife under one volcano, and now it had effectively ended under another.
Despite his obvious fatigue, it might have been easier for Dumoulin simply to keep on riding after he passed the finish line, but instead he stopped to speak to a cluster of reporters who had kept vigil near his Jumbo-Visma soigneur. Nobody treats triumph and disaster just the same, of course, but Dumoulin, decorous in victory and defeat, tried to put words on his disappointment.
“I felt quite OK this morning, but during the final my legs went bad really soon. I just don’t have the legs at the moment,” Dumoulin said. There was, he added, no immediate explanation for his travails, no illness or injury to report.
“No, at the moment I have as little answers as you have. I worked well. I worked hard for this Giro, but yeah, it’s not working out as I hoped.”
Dumoulin’s climbing form was an unknown coming into this race. His hiatus from cycling in the early part of last season meant that he hadn’t scaled a mountain pass with the best riders in the peloton since the 2020 Tour de France. Injury and illness restricted his racing miles so far this season, and he was dropped early on the two summit finishes at the UAE Tour.
"I worked hard for it, just as hard as always," Dumoulin said on Tuesday. “But it's not coming out anymore. The body no longer reacts the way I want. My legs are full. I no longer have the power I had a few years ago. Those were not fun kilometres.”
Dumoulin’s Jumbo-Visma teammate Tobias Foss lasted longer in the group of favourites, but he, too, would be distanced before the summit. The Norwegian finished almost five minutes down on the stage winner Kämna, and he now lies 30th overall at 4:14.
“The guys were going fast and I missed the last percentage. It’s still early in the race, but for sure it was not the best day,” Foss said. “To me, [Dumoulin] looked good, but it is what it is. It was a hard stage in general, so if you don’t have legs or a few percentages, then you struggle a bit. But there’s still a lot of the race left. We’ll take it day by day and take our chances.”
Dumoulin, for his part, was in no place to cast his mind that far ahead. The day’s arid truth had yet to be digested. “At the moment I don’t want to think about it,” he said. “I just need to recover.”
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.
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