Ahead of his return to the peloton at the Tour de Suisse on Sunday, Tom Dumoulin has said that he had lost the pleasure in racing before taking a break from the sport, adding that his time away was a big help.
The Dutchman stepped away from racing for an indefinite period at his Jumbo-Visma team training camp back in late January, stating that he felt as though "a backpack of a hundred kilos has slipped off my shoulders" and saying that he'd spend some time thinking about what he wants for his future.
In an interview with Het Nieuwsblad ahead of the Tour de Suisse, Dumoulin said that he had lost the pleasure of racing in the past three years, adding that he's uncertain of what his racing future after Tokyo will look like. However, he noted that the upcoming week will see him focus on the stage 1 and stage 7 time trials in Frauenfeld and Andermatt.
"The problem of the last three years was that I lost the pleasure in my job and the race," Dumoulin told the Belgian newspaper. "I had forgotten what I liked and didn't like. Now I know that again. That period without racing was very instructive for me. I know again what kind of rider Tom Dumoulin is.
"What follows after Tokyo, I don't know yet. Maybe it will be chasing classifications in big tours again. Maybe I want to set other goals, or maybe I don't want to be a rider at all anymore.
"The classification is definitely not a goal [here], the two time trials are," he added.
Dumoulin revealed that he has had a short preparation for the eight-day race, including a two-week training camp at altitude in Livigno in the Italian Alps. A second stint at altitude will come during the Tour, with Switzerland and the Dutch National Championships set to be his only racing tests ahead of Tokyo.
He said that he's aiming to reach the level of the final time trial of last year's Tour de France, which saw him take second place at La Planche des Belles Filles, 1:21 behind the shock race-winning ride of Tadej Pogačar. The time trials in Switzerland will be a test ahead of his main challenge in Tokyo, he said.
"My plan is to be as good in Tokyo as I was then. I also believe it's possible, otherwise I wouldn't have started this plan. Of coursem everything will have to fall into the right placem and you can ask yourself if I have enough time to grow to my very best level, but I am confident that it will work.
"These time trials will make me a bit wiser. Although you can't compare these time trials with the ones in Tokyo. That doesn't really matter, I see these time trials more as a test to realize what my work points are."
Aside from the two rides against the clock, Dumoulin will be riding in support of teammate Sam Oomen, a new signing from his old squad, DSM, and a man who helped him win the 2018 Giro d'Italia.
"I will set myself small goals during each stage and if I can help Sam with that, it'll be a pleasure. I don't see myself in a position to be top 10 in the general classification right now, and that's not the intention. I am not here to kill myself, but to have a good week of racing in the legs. You shouldn't forget that I have only trained for a month.
"Although I have to say that I was shocked when I got back on my bike for the first time after a few months of no training. After two weeks, I did a test and was surprised by the result. The talent has certainly not disappeared. That is also the reason why I have made the Tokyo Olympics a goal."
Dumoulin also talked about the pressures of being a top-level sportsperson, with tennis star Naomi Osaka's well-publicised struggles at the French Open another example of the tough mental side of elite sports.
"Of course I am not alone," Dumoulin said. "There are many top athletes and certainly also non-top athletes who sometimes struggle with themselves, but I don't want to present myself as a role model.
"I have no advice for others. Each person can figure that out for himself. During the training camp in Livigno, I certainly found the love of cycling again.
I was in a deep place before. Besides the mental difficulties, I was overtrained so physically I was not healthy either. As soon as I took some rest, I felt better. When I got back on the bike, I felt that the rider Dumoulin was not finished yet – I still have that feeling now."
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