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RICHMOND, USA (CT) – Dutch fans will travel wherever their team goes, even if that means crossing the Atlantic to go to America, where the UCI Road World Championships are being held for the first time since 1986. And where the Dutch riders and fans go, the media follows.
Aware of this, the Netherlands Federation hosted an intimate press conference for select media on Monday night (local time) with the Netherlands’ main star, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin).
After winning bronze in the individual time trial at last year’s world championships in Spain, and showing his still-developing talent at this year’s Tour de Suisse, Tour de France and especially the Vuelta a España, Tom Dumoulin has the Dutch cycling media more than excited. Whether he will bring home the gold medal after Wednesday’s world championship time trial, however, Dumoulin himself isn’t so sure.
“I feel strong but I will see on Wednesday. Wednesday could be really good or disappointing,” Dumoulin said. “Either way it will be a good lesson.”
The 24-year-old time trial specialist seemed relaxed and unfazed by any pressure, and realistic about the fact that he has dropped some weight while working on his hill climbing this year, which may affect his time trial.
“My weight is lower and I have lost some muscle, too. I have to find a balance between the two,” he said. “But I am starting to get very comfortable with this time trialing thing, even if my power is lower. So far it hasn’t affected my time trial. But at some point I will lose too much weight and maybe I will find that out on Wednesday.”
Training at altitude, leaning up and focusing on skills outside of time trialing has served the Giant-Alpecin rider well, propelling him to perhaps his best season yet. Even he himself was surprised.
In the Vuelta this year, Dumoulin emerged as an unexpected leader. His first Grand Tour podium or even a win was looking possible up until the very last days of the race.
“Vuelta was quite a surprise for me,” he said. “To do this well I really did not expect.”
Dumoulin dropped from first to sixth in the second-to-last day in the Vuelta, after other teams — led by Astana — came for him. It was a bitter disappointment for the Dutch fans who haven’t seen a Dutchman win a Grand Tour since Joop Zoetemelk won the 1980 Tour de France.
“Overall I’m pretty proud actually [about my Vuelta performance]. Yes, the last days were disappointing but I got over it quite quickly actually. It was far less disappointing than my Tour,” he said.
After a strong showing in the first stages of the Tour de France, Dumoulin was eyeing the yellow jersey in stage 3. But it wasn’t meant to be. He crashed out, injuring his shoulder, and his Tour was over. The Vuelta was his comeback.
“I went to altitude again and trained pretty hard. But I went into the Vuelta without any expectations. I wanted to share with myself and with the world that I trained hard, was fresh and motivated for the last part of the season,” Dumoulin commented, adding that he was never meant to lead the GC. “Now I know I can lead a GC in a Grand Tour. I hadn’t known that before. It had never been my goal but now that it got realistic, it is something I will pursue. This Vuelta has made me a wiser man.”
Already a strong sprint team, Giant-Alpecin might be looking to add some support in the mountains for riders like himself, Dumoulin said. But while a stage race and Grand Tour focus is in Dumoulin’s future, the Dutch fans will have to wait until 2017.
“Next year I will not go for the GC in any Grand Tour. Next year my focus is [the time trial at] Rio,” Dumoulin said. “From what I have heard, the time trial is quite hard and it should suit me. So that is my focus.”
If given the chance, many riders would rather be a Grand Tour GC contender than an Olympic medalist, Dumoulin acknowledged.
“For me, growing up, the Olympics was always very special. Watching [swimmer] Pieter van den Hoogenband win in Sydney made much more of an impression on me than Armstrong winning the Tour de France,” he said.
And, practically speaking, the chance of an Olympic medal only comes along every four years.
“I could have to wait another eight years before a TT comes along that suits me that well,” he said.
Dumoulin said he looks forward to a relaxed off season with the bonus of having some “nice late season results,” and considers the time trial on Wednesday as his first Rio prep.
“My weight and loss of muscle could make for a disappointing time trial but it would teach me how to tackle my approach to Rio,” he stated.