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Ride like... Tom Dumoulin

28 Nov 2017

Inside the mind of the high-flying and hugely popular young Dutch master

Dutchman Tom Dumoulin has been making waves in cycling ever since his debut in 2010, winning the individual time-trial at the UCI Under-23 Nations Cup despite never having ridden a time-trial bike before.

Turning pro in 2012, he made his Grand Tour debut the same year at the Vuelta a España, and in 2014 made his mark as a time-trial specialist by winning the Dutch national title and finishing third behind Tony Martin and Sir Bradley Wiggins at the UCI World Championships.

The 2015 season saw him showing signs of developing into a more complete rider with strong overall performances in major stage races including the Tour Down Under and Tour de Suisse.

His stellar rise has continued this year, with a surprising but popular victory in the Giro d’Italia and the UCI World Time Trial title.

Let’s find out what makes the likeable Dumoulin tick…

Fact file

Name: Tom Dumoulin
Nickname: The Butterfly of Maastricht
Date of birth: 11th November 1990 (age 27)
Born: Maastricht, Netherlands
Rider type: Time-trial specialist and Grand Tour winner
Professional teams: 2011 Rabobank Continental Team; 2012-present Team Sunweb
Palmarès: World Time-Trial Champion 2017; Giro d’Italia overall winner 2017, 3 stage wins; Tour de France 2 stage wins; Vuelta a España 2 stage wins; Dutch National Time Trial Champion 2014, 2016, 2017; BinckBank Tour overall winner 2017

Ride your own race

What? After his stunning Giro victory, many are tipping Dumoulin as a challenger to Froome’s crown in the 2018 Tour de France. But rather than think in terms of beating the Brit, the Dutchman’s focus is on winning on his own terms.

‘It’s not my motivation just to challenge Froome,' Dumoulin revealed. ‘If I go to the Tour I want to fight for victory, but there’s a lot of guys and you have to beat them all to win.

‘It’s not a clash of the titans between me and Froome. Some journalists like to paint that picture and it’s nice, but I don’t look at it that way. He’s the biggest and the best GT rider at the moment but let’s see in the future.’

How? Approaching any ride with too narrow a focus can mean you’re not prepared when things don’t go as expected.

Although Froome is favourite to win the Tour again in 2018, Dumoulin is aware that there are many other contenders beside himself.

In any race or sportive, focus on your own strengths and strategies for achieving your best performance rather than being led by what others are doing.

Seize your opportunities

What? In 2015, a fall on stage three of the Tour de France forced Dumoulin out of the race with a dislocated shoulder.

Making his comeback in the Vuelta a España less than two months later, he was expected to withdraw before the finish to concentrate on preparing for the World Champs.

In fact, a gritty performance in the mountains and victory in the individual time-trial stage saw him take sixth place overall, his best position in a Grand Tour until the 2017 Giro.

How? Sometimes things don’t go your way on the bike and you have to cut your losses, regroup and come back another day.

Other times, you can find yourself doing much better than expected. Which is why it pays to adopt a flexible mindset to take advantage of any given situation.

As Dumoulin himself said after his success, ‘If you can ride podium or top five in a Grand Tour, you shouldn’t stop yourself because of the upcoming world championships or something.’

Don’t Panic!

What? During stage 16 of this year’s Giro d’Italia, commentators, viewers and even fellow racers were taken by surprise when Dumoulin stopped at a critical moment in the race on the climb of the Umbrail Pass, and ran into a field for an urgent ‘comfort break’.

Capitalising on his misfortune, his rivals – including Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali and Mikel Landa – went on the attack. But rather than lose his head in a frantic chase, Dumoulin used his time-trialling prowess to reduce the gap gradually.

He still lost over two minutes on the stage but retained the overall race lead.

How? On that occasion, Dumoulin was affected by a dodgy gut, but it could just as easily have been a puncture or a mechanical.

Whatever the cause, the most important thing to remember in any similar situation – whether it’s in a race, time trial or sportive – is to have a strategy.

By keeping his cool and measuring his effort, Dumoulin was able to avoid a potentially disastrous result.


Win clean

What? As part of a younger generation of pro cyclists, Dumoulin is keen to break with the sport’s troubled past and takes a vociferous anti-doping stance.

‘I don’t know how you’d feel about a victory if you doped. I couldn’t imagine that you’d have the same amazing feeling that I had at the Giro or the Worlds,’ Dumoulin has said.

‘Also when you look back at your career after, and if you doped, then all these people that started cycling because of you, they’d be so disappointed. It’d be heart-breaking.’

How? Cheating may be appealing in the short term but it clearly doesn’t bring any long-term happiness or success.

And you don’t have to dope to cheat. Massaging ride data to make your numbers look better or lying to others (or even yourself) about the quality of your training won’t make you a better rider. Only riding can do that.

Learn from your mistakes

What? After a dominant performance in both the Team and Individual Time Trials at this year’s UCI Road World Championships in Norway, many tipped the in-form Dumoulin to achieve an unprecedented triple by taking the Road Race title as well.

Attacking on the penultimate lap on the climb of Salmon Hill, Dumoulin opened a small gap over his rivals but was unable to make it count, eventually finishing 25th overall.

How? On a course that favoured riders like Peter Sagan and Alexander Kristoff, it was going to take tactical nous for a rider like Dumoulin to pull off the win.

‘I tried to do something other than just wait for the last climb but I was lacking a bit of a punch,’ Dumoulin explained after the race. 

‘I made the wrong decision. I had some good legs but I should have waited for the last climb. Sagan and Kristoff were able to hang on and just suffer.’

Rather than dwell on the disappointment of failure, Dumoulin’s cool-headed analysis shows that he’s trained his mind to react to poor performances positively by treating them as opportunities for learning.

Seek out inspiration

What? As a larger rider who specialises in time-trialling but can also climb well, it’s no surprise that Dumoulin has been compared to Bradley Wiggins – and even less surprising that the Dutchman sees Wiggo as a great source of inspiration.

‘He showed that if you can ride good TTs and do something about your weight, then you have a good power-to-weight ratio,’ Dumoulin revealed in 2015.

‘It also showed me that it’s maybe possible in the future to go for more in Grand Tours.’

How? Few people saw the potential in Wiggins to win the Tour de France, arguing he was the wrong build to compete in the high mountains.

But with the right coaching and a lot of determination, he did just that. Following this example, Dumoulin also confounded expectations by winning the Giro d’Italia this year, beating specialist climbers such as Quintana and Landa.

So whether it’s pros like Wiggo or old hands at your cycling club who defy their age, look for inspiration in the achievements of others.