Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) hoped his afternoon would end bathed in sunlight atop the podium on Al Mayhah Island rather than sat in what amounted to a darkened underpass, but it was to this dank setting that he returned after a mechanical issue ruined his first time trial in the rainbow jersey of world champion on stage 4 of the Abu Dhabi Tour.
On arriving at the team car park after the stage, Dumoulin held a brief conflab with his mechanics and then spoke with directeur sportif Aike Visbeek, before sitting on a deck chair and staring forlornly into space.
The grim surroundings can only have matched Dumoulin's mood after a recalcitrant rear shifter forced him into a bike change that cost him all hope of victory. Eventually, he rose to warm down on the rollers alongside teammate Wilco Kelderman, and Visbeek beckoned a waiting group of reporters inside the cordon.
"I did the recon beforehand and my rear derailleur went into crash mode somehow, I don't know why. That means that it cannot shift anymore on the back," said Dumoulin, who raced on a bike emblazoned with the rainbow bands of world champion. "The mechanics put the bike upside down and they put a new rear derailleur in it, so we made a decision to ride on the world champion's bike in the time trial, but then it happened again in the race.
"Apparently it was a problem with the shifter rather than the rear derailleur, or with the electronics inside, I don't know. Anyway, I needed to change bikes. It really sucks. I had the fastest time at the intermediate and I was still feeling good. I'm always a slow starter so I still had something left. After that, it was pretty much done."
Dumoulin had been the favourite for the short test and duly hurtled through the intermediate check, after 7.1km, a second quicker than the pace-setter Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team). Shortly afterwards, however, the Dutchman began gesticulating frantically to his rear wheel and then braked to a halt.
After laying his bike carefully on the roadside, Dumoulin threw his arms down in frustration as he waited for his replacement machine. Although he eventually regained cruising speed, a time trial of 12.6km meant that the stoppage was an insurmountable obstacle, and he crossed the line in 12th place on the stage, 31 seconds down on Dennis.
"I would have liked to have started my first time trial with different sensations afterwards, especially because I was feeling good and I was feeling strong," said Dumoulin. "And that's it."
That the mechanical problem was flagged but misdiagnosed beforehand can only have added to Dumoulin's frustration. He refused to draw much solace, too, from how he had managed to limit his losses to Dennis in the kilometres that followed his abrupt bike change.
"I don't know how much I lost with the change itself but I also lost something while riding against Dennis in the second part," Dumoulin said. "That's normal I guess, when you lose your rhythm completely and also your focus. But I tried to fight for it. I mean, I was racing anyway so I might as well make the best of it. It sucks but that's it."
Smooth through the opening kilometres, Dumoulin looked on course at the very least to position himself as the favourite for final overall victory on Sunday. He will instead begin the stage 5 ascent of Jebel Hafeet from ninth place overall, with a deficit of 31 seconds to Dennis.
Although Dumoulin limited the damage elsewhere – he trails Alejandro Valverde by just 7 seconds and leads Fabio Aru, Ilnur Zakarin, Rui Costa and Simon Yates – he downplayed his prospects of seizing the red jersey on the only climb of the race. Kelderman, now 5th at 16 seconds, might be Sunweb's more likely contender.
"There are some GC leaders that are definitely in front of me," Dumoulin said. "Maybe there are some behind, but I guess they're all close to me or in front of me. It will be very hard to make a real big difference on the climb. I'm going to give my best tomorrow and then we'll see."
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