As one of the most forthcoming, open riders in the peloton, Tom Dumoulin has long been a favourite of the fans and media. His breakthrough win in the Giro d'Italia in 2017, followed by second places in both the Giro and the Tour de France in 2018, set him up as one of the most impressive GC riders in the peloton.
That’s why it is such a great loss to cycling to have him announce a temporary break from professional racing.
The timing of the announcement was strange. The night before he announced his departure from the sport, Dumoulin’s Twitter account proudly proclaimed his first race of 2021 would be Strade Bianche.
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We can put this down to various people having access to a rider’s social media accounts and it being a pre-scheduled post – but the disconnect between people so close to Dumoulin and what the man himself must surely have been thinking for a while, is a measure of how abrupt the decision to step away must have been. And, how Jumbo might very well have been caught flat-footed, as a result.
A change in perspective
In 2020, Dumoulin played a different role at Jumbo-Visma than the one he is used to. He was slated to start Le Tour as a co-leader, alongside Primož Roglič, but by stage eight he was out of the running and working 100% for the Slovenian.
This is one of the more remarkable aspects of Dumoulin’s character; he is not averse to riding in support of another team-mate despite being a champion in his own right. Indeed, the 30-year-old seems to lack that egocentric element to his character which often goes hand-in-hand with team leadership. After all, one needs to be a little bit arrogant to demand an entire team slays itself for one’s own ambitions. For a rider with such enormous talent – in the prime years of his athletic life – to sacrifice himself for another rider’s hopes is more than uncommon.
Tom Dumoulin und Primoz Roglic
Image credit: Getty Images
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By the time the beleaguered professional cycling season wobbled its way into Spain for La Vuelta 2020, Dumoulin’s place as a domestique-deluxe was all but cemented. He’d helped Roglič to his Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory, before toeing the start line in Irún. Notionally, he and Roglič would once again share leadership, but Dumoulin had lost half an hour by stage six, and he did not begin stage eight.
Perhaps, his performance on stage seven – his last act of the 2020 season – tells us the most about his mentality as a rider. And his value to Jumbo-Visma.
On a day when the Spanish weather was absolutely filthy, Roglič had chosen an inopportune time to go back for a rain jacket and been caught out by a change of pace in the peloton. The rain lashed down so hard that the TV cameras struggled to locate Roglic for some time, but we know from comments made by George Bennett post-Vuelta, that it was Dumoulin who put in one final awesome pull to bring Roglič back into contact with the race. He lost another 11 minutes at the finish and abandoned that night, citing extreme fatigue from a condensed season of competition. In doing this, Bennett said Dumoulin had saved Roglič’s Vuelta.
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Impact on 2021
Dumoulin never quite got back to full racing fitness in 2020 after his 2019 race programme was kiboshed by a bad knee injury at the Giro. According to his team, he was in fine shape at the start of 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic ensured a fractured and chaotic season was to follow. Dumoulin has basically endured two years of tumult – and it’s certainly understandable that he might need a break.
From what we know of Jumbo-Visma’s plans for 2021, Dumoulin would have gone to Le Tour, alongside Roglič. Now, the Dutch team will be without one of its strongest riders – either a domestique or co-leader – and that will have knock-on effects, with a strong rider likely to be 'pulled' from the Giro squad to fill Dumoulin's place.
Will Roglič’s ambitions of going one better than his 2020 second place be fatally wounded by the loss of Dumoulin, or might this – with a time trial-heavy route announced for Le Tour – have been the year Dumoulin (a former world champion in the TT) finally bagged the big one for himself? We'll never know.
There is one final, troubling question. What if this break becomes permanent? There is very recent precedent for a rider taking a break from the sport making the decision permanent to retire. In 2018 Marcel Kittel stepped away from the sport for many of the same reasons as Dumoulin; mental fatigue, lack of desire, a less-than-full commitment to the practice of training and racing. As we know, Kittel never returned to the professional peloton. Let's hope the same is not true of Dumoulin and we see him back rejuvenated in the coming seasons.
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