Tom Dumoulin has revealed he considers his personal victory against the pressures and expectations of professional cycling as his most important success of 2018.
The Team Sunweb leader finished second in the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and the world time trial championships but looks back at his year with personal satisfaction in a revealing interview with the De Telegraaf newspaper.
“I have listened much more to my feelings,” Dumoulin explained.
“Of course, I continued to work hard, but I dared to let go of all the plans and goals. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I don’t want to control things too tightly and in a race dozens of things happen that you can’t control. Putting that oppressive feeling aside felt like a victory. My most important success in 2018 was perhaps that victory over myself. I am very proud of that."
Dumoulin married his long-time partner Thanee during the winter. She is a psychologist and has helped Dumoulin understand himself after the success of winning the 2017 Giro d’Italia almost overwhelmed him.
“Humans aren’t made to deal with so many changes. The world is going so fast now, much faster than fifty years ago. Everything is busy, you live continuously in the highest gear. It’s not normal for someone to process all of this in a short period of time. There was a short circuit in my head. I had to learn to deal with all those events and that needed time."
"I didn’t become a cyclist for the money and the fame, I got on the bike because I just thought it was cool. Last autumn, all the peripheral things started to distract me and I lost sight of the beauty of my sport. I only saw the disadvantages that I was suddenly confronted with. I’m a control freak, almost a perfectionist. Precisely because I lost control of my life around cycling, I started to look even more extreme on the bike. That just worked counterproductively, I wasn’t comfortable with myself. That caused so much imbalance that I constantly collided with myself. It sounds very intense now, but it was period in which I have really struggled with myself."
Dumoulin hit a low point when he crashed out of Tirreno-Adriatico in March. Fortunately it also served as wake-up call to reflect and reset his life, and approach, to cycling.
“It became clear to me that I had to worry less and just had to cycle and train again," he admitted, opting for an unstructured block of riding with Bram Tankink and Laurens ten Dam in the Ardennes. They are known as two unorthodox riders, who have always enjoyed life as well as their training and racing.
“I told myself I'm just going to make it fun for myself again. With Bram and 'Lau' I just cycled once again, simply having fun on the bike without a training plan,” Dumoulin recalled.
“Training in that earlier period felt like a punishment. I saw a ride as work, as a necessary evil that was needed to achieve a goal. But nine times out of 10 the reason you get on a bike must be because you feel like it, that you are looking forward to riding for a few hours. At that time it was just very important that I listened to my feelings again."
Back to his best for the Grand Tours
Dumoulin got his mojo back in time for the Giro d’Italia and fought with Chris Froome for the maglia rosa. He spent more time riding and relaxing in June and still had the form and motivation to fight for second place in the Tour de France behind Geraint Thomas. He some how found a third peak of form to finish second in the team time trial and individual time trial at the Innsbruck world championships and then fourth in the road race.
“My results were a real picture of things: second best in the Giro, second best in the Tour and second best in the World Championship time trial. It is a pity that one of them just got better."
Dumoulin is most proud of his second place at the Tour de France.
"After such a hard Giro d'Italia I didn’t expect that. It’s no easy task to be focused for two Grand Tours, that’s very heavy both physically and mentally. That I went to a higher level this year in the Tour than in the Giro makes me very proud. I think I was able to prove that I was a lot better uphill in the Alpine stages, especially on the long, hard mountain stages with more than 5000 metres of climbing which were hard for me in the past. I had the physical ability to be able to climb with the best.
“Why is that? I’m a year older and stronger. In addition, during the past two years I have also focused more on climbing with a different training approach."
He reflects on his development but true to his new philosophy, Dumoulin does not ask too many questions.
“Where does all this come from? I sometimes wonder. I don’t know,” he said.
“I don’t really know what drives me. I like to challenge myself, taking myself out of the comfort zone and then trying to create a new comfort zone. Why do I do that? I have no idea. It’s often very hard and so I suppose I really do it for myself. Why do I like it to beat others? I’m apparently a winner but why am I a winner? Maybe we shouldn’t try to find a deeper understanding of everything.”
Dumoulin concludes that he has come to terms with his success. He has also learnt how to live his own life, pushing back against some of the demands of professional cycling and embracing an enjoying others.
“Now I’m not afraid to accept that I am a cyclist. But secretly I also think it's great fun. I don’t want to live like a monk as I did in the past. I’ve never wanted to be like some extreme athletes even if some people think I am. I still keep an eye on what is happening in the world. I like to speak with friends who have no connection with cycling. My family at the table never talks about cycling. I also rarely mention it myself.
“I am a cyclist, but it is not really that I’ve become a recluse. Perhaps because of my difficulties last winter I’ve realised that I don’t have to live with blinkers on, that everything has to be in balance."