“The Italian people are very passionate,” Tom Dumoulin began. “Chaotic, but I like it, it’s like my character. They’re very direct. And with an Italian, you know what you’re going to get.”
The 31-year-old stops short of saying he’s some sort of Dutch-Italian hybrid, even though he doesn’t feel typically Dutch. And maybe a part of that is because even Tom Dumoulin doesn’t always know what you’re going to get with Tom Dumoulin.
The recurring theme throughout his pre-Giro d’Italia press conference is the mention of question marks. This will be his first Grand Tour in more than a year, his 2020 Vuelta a España abandoned after a Tour de France a few months prior where he didn’t quite want or feel able to put himself in the wind and challenge for the victory as he had at the 2017 and 2018 Giri, and the 2018 Tour de France, where his results sheet read first, second, second.
The pressure, however, always feels the same. “I’m always curious to see where it will lead me,” he said of embarking on another three-week stage race. “And it’s not been different in the other Grand Tours. I always approach it the same, always a bit of a question mark, and as soon as the race is on, you will quickly find out and that’s it.”
The early time gaps on the Mount Etna mountain stage should not only help alleviate stress in the bunch, as every team with a contender fights to stay in the front while everyone remains in contention, but it will also give Dumoulin an idea of whether he can still compete for the general classification. After all, he wasn’t even sure if he was going to return to racing at all after his break at the start of last year, mentally drained from the demands of life as a GC rider.
“The racing,” Dumoulin said, is his favourite aspect of being a GC guy, “I don’t like the preparation.” And who can blame him?
As he sits live in the flesh in front of a room of reporters spilling out the door, he’s mostly relaxed, and quick to laugh. But on a couple of occasions when a question is asked a bit too pointedly, maybe picking apart hints in his previous answers this year as to whether he really does feel ready to challenge for Grand Tours again, he is methodical in his explanation. Eye contact is maintained, a pause is taken at the end before he reiterates with further clarification that he has, in fact, always thought it possible. But that also, it is unknown territory. The straight-talking Italian in him rises to the surface.
One person who does believe in the Dutchman is Richie Porte, who will be riding in service of GC rival Richard Carapaz.
“I hope he’s right,” Dumoulin said with a wink of Porte highlighting him as a GC worry for the Ineos Grenadiers. “We’ll see in three weeks time.”
“I would really like to win a stage,” Dumoulin elaborated. “That is a good starting point, and then I’m also here with the mindset of doing a GC.”
The pair of time trials present a more obvious opportunity for the Jumbo-Visma man than stage victory in the mountains, although Dumoulin admits he didn’t fancy fighting through the Budapest traffic to recon the Hungarian race against the clock on stage 2.
Despite that, he’s happy with his preparation, heading to Colombia earlier in the year for altitude training, keeping things fresh compared with the well-trodden path to Tenerife for elevation gains. In fact, he believes there’s nothing he could have done to prepare better for this Grand Tour.
“Part of my fun in cycling is also getting the best out of myself, and also … um … I would not say riding for GC is the most fun in terms of preparation or whatever because you need to watch your weight, train very hard, and the pressure of going full gas every day, it’s not the easiest way [to have fun]. But I get the fun part from getting the best out of myself, that’s what motivates me,” he said.
Dumoulin finished his media availability by offering up a two-wheeled proverb for life. As he put it, “A happy man goes a long way.”
Let’s see if this one can go all the way to the top step of the Verona podium.