The landmarks along the way are the same as they were a year ago, but Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) has been on the go long enough to understand that the road beneath his wheels will be different as he sets out on his 2018 season.
As in 2017, the Dutchman begins his season at the Abu Dhabi Tour on Wednesday, and his route to the Giro d'Italia start on May 4 is again set to feature Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
That precise programme served as Dumoulin's build-up to his overall victory at the 2017 Giro, but he is mindful that there is a world of difference between loosely following a tried-and-trusted mode of preparation and obsessively striving to replicate the past, piece by piece.
"It's actually more of a risk than a benefit, and that's why I don't want to compare any training data from last year or whatever," Dumoulin said of his 2018 schedule in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. "I just have to do this programme. I know I liked it last year, and I will do it again, but it's not going to be exactly same training on the same days with the same feeling. That's never going to work, so we're not going to do that."
Indeed, at least one element of Dumoulin's preparation for the Giro will be inescapably different in 2018. Last April, he spent part of the build-up to the corsa rosa in an altitude training camp in Tenerife, but hotel rooms on Mount Teide are booked solid in the weeks leading up to this year's Giro. Dumoulin and his Sunweb teammates will instead train in the Sierra Nevada.
"We've changed to Sierra Nevada. There was only one hotel in Tenerife and it was full, but it's ok," Dumoulin smiled. "If you want to go to Tenerife, you need to be very early with booking and we failed."
One regular guest at the Hotel Parador over the years has been Chris Froome, whose positive test for salbutamol on last year's Vuelta a España has dominated headlines since the news broke in mid-December, and will continue to do so until the case is resolved. While Dumoulin is reluctant to discuss the specifics of the case itself, he is concerned by the duration of the process.
"I don't think a lot of riders have a different opinion: I think all the riders agree that it's not good for cycling that this case is lingering on and there's no solution yet," Dumoulin said. "That's the thing and I hope justice prevails, whatever that justice may be, whether it's in favour of Chris or otherwise. I just hope they find a solution quickly."
Froome returned to racing at the Ruta del Sol last week, despite the misgivings of UCI president David Lappartient, and is free to race until a verdict is reached. The longer the case drags on, the more likely it seems that Froome, rather like Alberto Contador in 2011, will begin the Giro and perhaps even the Tour de France with a final decision on his fate still pending.
"It would be very, very bad if he starts the Giro without still knowing something and they maybe have to say after the Giro or the Tour that he's suspended. That would be the worst scenario ever, so I hope they find the solution," said Dumoulin, who neither condemned nor condoned Froome's decision not to withhold himself from racing while his case is adjudicated.
"That I cannot say. Right now he's allowed to race. He may do that – and he may also not – but that's his decision."
Tour de France
Dumoulin's decision to return to the Giro in 2018 came as something of a surprise, particularly given the longstanding love affair between the Dutch public and the Tour de France, but the 27-year-old explained that his choice was a pragmatic one, albeit not altogether divorced of emotion.
"The main reason is that I think my chances of winning a Grand Tour in the coming year is higher in the Giro than the Tour, because of the parcours and maybe the competitors," he said. "But another one of the main reasons is that I love Italy. I like the race better than the Tour, it's just a feeling. I just like to be there, and if I like to be there, I race better."
With an additional week between the Giro and the Tour in 2018, there seems to be a much greater likelihood of Dumoulin riding both races this time around, though he stressed that a decision on his participation in La Grande Boucle will only be taken in early June, once he has digested his efforts in Italy.
"We have a few scenarios ready and then we will decide a week or two weeks after the Giro," Dumoulin said. "If I am completely fucked and I mentally don't see myself riding the Tour, then I won't do it. If I feel good, then it may be possible. But first the Giro. Well, first Abu Dhabi…"
Twelve months ago, Dumoulin hit the ground running in Abu Dhabi, placing third overall after a battling performance on the summit finish at Jebel Hafeet, and the addition of a 12km time trial to this year's route only enhances his prospects. It will mark Dumoulin's first outing in the rainbow jersey of the time trial world champion, though he pointed out that in Wilco Kelderman Sunweb have another contender for the honours this week.
"We'll see after the time trial and then we'll make a plan for the summit finish on the last day," Dumoulin said. "It doesn't matter who wins or gets on the podium so long as it's one of us."
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