Tom Dumoulin has admitted that he came closer to quitting cycling than continuing after a spate of issues kept him away from racing for over a year before making his long-awaited Jumbo-Visma debut at the Tour de l'Ain.
The Dutchman, fresh off a ride to seventh place overall at the Tour de France, said after the race finish in Paris that he had considered leaving the sport behind earlier this year.
A knee injury sustained in a crash at last year's Giro d'Italia saw his 2019 season largely ruined, while a combination of intestinal parasites and the COVID-19 pandemic meant he couldn't start his 2020 campaign until August.
Dumoulin was set to ride the Tour as part of a three-pronged attack at Jumbo-Visma, although Steven Kruijswijk was forced out after suffering a dislocated shoulder at the Critérium du Dauphiné. At the Tour, Dumoulin settled into a super-domestique role for Primož Roglič after losing time on stage 8 to Loudenvielle.
Although the Tour would eventually end in disappointment for Jumbo-Visma – despite three stage victories – after Roglič was blown away by challenger Tadej Pogačar in the Planche des Belles Filles time trial, Dumoulin was happy with his return to the race.
"I'm proud of myself for having reached this level again," he told Dutch broadcaster NOS in Paris. "That I came seventh and competed for the win in the time trial [he finished second] – if you had told me that in April, I would not have believed it.
"I had a really terrible time after my knee injury," he added, referring to his injury and illness troubles of the past 17 months. "Then my bowel problems and then Corona… I can say that I was closer to stopping than I was to continuing.
"From May, I tried to pick up the thread again. I love cycling, and I started working towards the Tour. Things got better and better in my preparation, but to this day I don't feel comfortable on the bike."
Dumoulin has been on a positive trajectory since the Tour de l'Ain, going from 11th there to seventh at the Dauphiné, and now seventh at the Tour.
His ride in Saturday's time trial was his best result at a Grand Tour since the final time trial at the 2018 Tour, even if the abiding memory of his performance will be his bewilderment at Pogačar's ride – "I don't know how Pogačar climbed a minute faster than I did," he said later on Saturday afternoon.
The theme of bewilderment continued on Sunday, with the 30-year-old insisting that he had put up power numbers comparable to his 2017 World Championships time trial victory in Bergen, Norway.
"My values were World Championship-worthy values. That's great to see," he said. "That's why I was all the more surprised that Pogačar was 1:21 faster.
"I'm sure I can tell you I'm never going to reach that level. I may be able to win one per cent somewhere, but not five per cent."
Dumoulin has already been confirmed as part of the Dutch road race and time trial squads for the upcoming Road World Championships (September 24-27), although his participation in the time trial is dependent on how he feels in the coming days, he said.
"I'm going home for a few days, and on Wednesday I'll fly to the Worlds. Then things will depend on how I feel. Friday's time trial is still subject to change.
"I have agreed with national coach Koos Moerenhout that I'll see how I come out of the Tour. I feel good, but I've had a difficult time. I don't want to overload myself and take that into next year. I'll have a nice rest, and then you'll see me again in Imola."
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