The news that Tom Dumoulin has decided to take a leave of absence from the cycling world came as a shock to many but not to his teammates, who have seen the Dutchman struggle since joining Jumbo-Visma in 2020. Wout van Aert says that he hopes his teammate can come back stronger.
"For me this news was less of a surprise than for the outside world," Van Aert told Sporza after coming second at the Flandriencross in Hamme on Saturday. "I think Tom has had a very difficult year. Before that he was away for a long time with injuries and he also had a difficult time mentally.
"We noticed last year in the team that his return came with ups and downs. I hope this is a decision to come back stronger, he remains a great champion. But I do understand that it is a surprise to many people."
Dumoulin turned 30 in November after closing out a season with a strong ride in the Tour de France where he sacrificed his chances in the general classification to support Primoz Roglic. He ended the Tour seventh overall after a strong second to winner Tadej Pogacar in the stage 20 time trial. But his form faded in the late season while racing the Vuelta a España, and Dumoulin dropped out before stage 8 after losing 11 minutes the previous day. Now, that anonymous ride to Villanueva de Valdegovia could be the last race of his career.
Dumoulin was due to change up his calendar to include racing the Spring Classics this year, and Van Aert said "I think the team has put him in the team for the Classics to give him a new challenge.
"I was looking forward to riding the Classics with him, but that doesn't look good now. We still have enough strong riders and I have confidence in that."
Van Aert speculated that a postseason reset over the winter may not have worked for Dumoulin and said he just might need some more time.
"People with burnout are sometimes on the sidelines for a long time, but they don't stop working afterwards. He has enough talent to return to the highest level," Van Aert said.
Both Van Aert and fellow cyclo-cross racer Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) said the pressures of being an elite athlete is not always easy.
"I feel very comfortable myself and I enjoy riding my bike with great pleasure. It is indeed difficult to understand that you can lose the joy," Van Aert said. "But everyone has difficult times and you have to respect that. I hope Tom will be fine. In any case, I do not wish this for him."
Also speaking to Sporza after the race in Hamme, world champion Van der Poel said he doesn't know Dumoulin well, "but I can understand his choice".
"Being a top athlete always seems like a lot of fun and it seems like moonlight and roses, but I can see how you could be done with it for a while. Certainly in his case. He once performed at such a high level and now it just won't work and he is struggling from one injury to another."
Other cycling figures extended messages of support on social media including Chris Boardman, Flanders Classics CEO Thomas Van den Spiegel and AIGCP head Luuc Eisenga.
Back in March 2013, in the middle of basketball season, and despite a very good long term contract, I went to morning practice and told my coach I wanted to quit the sport I had loved since I was a kid. When you know, you know. All the best for the upcoming period @tom_dumoulin.January 23, 2021
Been there, brilliant -and brave- decision you won’t regret. Good luck in what comes next, on the bike or off.January 23, 2021
Big respect to @tom_dumoulin for listening to who he is and not what is. 👊🏻 https://t.co/WhhCYKEfiVJanuary 23, 2021
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