Mechanical mishap on the approach to Mûr-de-Bretagne aside, the early portents from Tom Dumoulin’s Tour de France are promising, but the Dutchman is keenly aware that the race’s first act will have little bearing on how the plot unfolds over the coming stages in the Alps.
After nine days of racing, Dumoulin lies 15th overall, 2:03 down on overall leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team), and 21 seconds behind defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky).
The Team Sunweb man appeared to be among the strongest – or at least the most willing – of the GC contenders on the cobbles to Roubaix on Sunday, and he reports no lingering effects of his efforts on May’s Giro d’Italia, but he warned that the Alps would offer a very different kind of challenge.
“Physically there were not the most demanding days but the stress in the bunch was pretty high. It was kind of a weird first nine days to have no mountains at all. It’s definitely another Tour de France from tomorrow,” Dumoulin said on Monday’s rest day.
“So far I feel really fresh. I’ve raced nine days, and I also feel that, but physically they weren’t the hardest days. But it’s just near impossible to say how you’re going to be in the coming three days. I just have to race my best and see where I end up.”
When the Tour route was unveiled last October, it was anticipated that the stage 3 team time trial and the cobbled stage to Roubaix would provoke some early and possibly even decisive gaps among the podium contenders. The unfortunate Richie Porte’s abandon notwithstanding, the pre-race favourites have largely broken even through the opening week. Few were spared bad luck, but – Porte aside – nobody’s challenge has been completely undone.
“I’m a bit surprised, actually. I would have expected some bigger time gaps maybe also yesterday but eventually everything is close together, which is nice for excitement in the mountains I guess – or not, because now people might be afraid to lose time,” Dumoulin said. “If somebody had lost three minutes yesterday then you would be sure that tomorrow would be a day of all-out for a guy like that, but that’s probably not going to happen. It’s kind of surprising that it’s so close.”
Dumoulin’s aggression caught the eye on the rocky road to Roubaix on Sunday, though he cautioned against reading too much into the runes of the stage given the very different obstacles that lie ahead.
“I was feeling very good and I was also one of the only GC riders who wanted to make a positive difference for myself. I think 90% of GC riders were happy not to lose time and I wanted to gain time, if it had been possible, but it wasn’t,” Dumoulin said. “But it’s completely different to a mountain stage. There were guys who were suffering yesterday who could be flying tomorrow or the day after.”
Even if the racing does prove to be cagey in the coming three days, the sheer difficulty of the terrain means that gaps are sure to open up among the contenders in any case. Wednesday’s miniature epic to La Rosière and Thursday’s stage to l’Alpe d’Huez naturally draw the eye, but stage 10 to La Grand Bornand has the potential to ask some important questions of its own.
There are three category 1 ascents on the stage – the Col de la Croix Fry, the Col de Romme and the final climb of the Col de la Colombière – as well as the novel hors categorie haul up Montée des Glières, which features a section of dirt road near the summit.
“Straight after a rest day, it could be risky [for attackers] to go for it, especially with two very hard days after it, but of course we have to be prepared for everything,” Dumoulin said. “Then there’s the climb that’s 6km at 11 per cent [Glières – ed.] That’s going to be brutal, but it’s at the beginning of the stage.
“I did a recon of the other two days, but not tomorrow. These are going to be absolutely brutal days in the mountains. We’ll know much more about the form of myself and my competitors after these three days.”