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VIVIERS, France (CT) – The tragic events that took place in Nice 24 hours ago cast an undeniable shadow over today’s stage of the Tour de France. The mood at the race was sombre, the riders and crowds reserved. In his post-stage press conference, overall leader Chris Froome spoke only to offer his condolences to those affected by the attack.
But the decision had been made to race, so race the riders did.
By the end of the day, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) had added to his stage 9 breakaway victory of five days earlier with a crushing win in the first of the Tour’s two time trials. The Dutchman completed the hilly 37.5km course in 50 minutes 15 seconds — an average speed of 44.7km/h — overcoming strong winds and his rivals to further his claim as the world’s strongest time trialist.
Not unexpectedly, it was a day of mixed emotions for the 25-year-old.
“On one side, I’m a very happy man, but on another side, I’m a very, very sad man,” Dumoulin said. “I woke up to the terrible news from Nice. I think it was a very just question, whether we should race or not today. At the end, I think it was a just decision to race.
“Of course I’m happy with the win, it’s what I came for at this Tour de France, but of course my thoughts are with everyone involved in the horrific attacks in Nice.”
In his post-stage press conference, Dumoulin admitted that he’d found it hard to concentrate in the hours leading up to the stage.
“I went a bit out of focus this morning, which is normal when you hear about these terrible things happening, just a few hundred kilometres away from here,” Dumoulin said. “Two hours before the start I thought ‘Ok, we’re racing anyway. I’m just going for it’ and I went for it and it was a very very good TT.”
Dumoulin registered his stage-winning time early in the afternoon and had a considerable wait in the hot seat as the GC favourites tried to oust him. In the end, Dumoulin finished more than a minute ahead of his fastest rival, Froome, while Portuguese champion Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) rounded out the podium.
Dumoulin admitted he was surprised to win by such a margin, but stressed the importance of viewing the result in its proper context. While Chris Froome and the other GC contenders have had to fight hard every day to stay in contention — including on the brutal Mont Ventoux climb a day earlier — Dumoulin has been able to pick and choose his days, taking it easy on some stages and only riding hard when he saw a chance of a result.
This context is particularly important when considering his upcoming tilt at the hilly Rio Olympics time trial — one of his biggest goals of the season. While Dumoulin agrees he’ll go into that test as the big favourite — “I think I cannot deny that after today” — he knows it’s a different sort of challenge to what he faced today.
“Doing a TT after 12 days already in the Tour de France against a lot of guys who are suffering every day — I’m not suffering every day — is very different than shining on a one-day event,” Dumoulin said. “It’s still, I think, almost four weeks until the TT in Rio, so a lot can happen shape-wise between now and four weeks.
“It’s up to me to keep my exceptional shape right now, to maintain that and that means I will not go full every day. I will keep picking out my days and hopefully it will pay off in Rio again.”
Dumoulin’s ability to win in the world’s biggest bike races is now beyond dispute. He has victories in each of the Grand Tours — one of only five Dutchman to achieve that feat — and has won at least one stage in each of the last three Grand Tours: the 2015 Vuelta a España, the 2016 Giro d’Italia and the 2016 Tour de France.
The big question is whether he will be able to pull it all together when he switches his focus from being a time triallist to a general classification contender. He’s already shown great promise in this regard.
He lead the Giro d’Italia for six stages earlier this year (before pulling out on stage 11) and lead last year’s Vuelta for six stages as well. In the Spanish Grand Tour he was leading the race in the last week but cracked on the final mountain stage and eventually ended up sixth.
Could the Dutchman’s switch to being a full-time GC contender happen right after the Rio Olympics, just as fellow-time-trialist-come-future-GC-contender Rohan Dennis is planning?
“Like I said already many times before I will definitely be focusing on the Grand Tour GC in the future,” Dumoulin said. “But I cannot say really when that will be.”
For the moment, ‘The Thoughtful Engine’ continues to impress on the sport’s biggest stage.