Jeremy Whittle

Giro 2022 — Dumoulin looking for redemption

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After his career hiatus, Tom Dumoulin, Giro d’Italia champion in 2017, is a dark horse for the podium in this year’s race. Can the charismatic Dutchman reprise the form that once made him one of the peloton’s leading Grand Tour contenders?

The relentless churn of World Tour racing takes its toll, but until recently, few top riders have spoken openly about how it depletes them, physically and mentally. Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish, Thibaut Pinot and some others have discussed their struggles, while gymnast Simone Biles also publicly detailed her mental health issues. Tom Dumoulin too has taken time out from racing, in an effort to get perspective on his career and more broadly, his life.

The Dutch star unexpectedly paused his career at the beginning of 2021, saying, after announcing his sabbatical, that it felt “as if a backpack of a hundred kilos has slipped off my shoulders.”

“I immediately woke up happy,” he said. “It feels so good that I finally took the decision to take some time for myself.”

Now he is back at the Giro, the race he won in 2017 and also took second in 2018. In both years, he was mentally and physically resilient, suffering some bad moments of course — including the infamous roadside toilet stop of the 2017 Giro — but also overcoming major setbacks to achieve his podium finishes.

But despite a block of altitude training in Tenerife, he admits he doesn’t know what to expect in his first Grand Tour since his career hiatus. “It makes little sense to speculate,” he said. “I’ve shown crazy things before with a lack of preparation. I’m not concerned with whether it’s going to be enough or if I can join the GC battle. We will see that in the first week of the Giro.”

There is pressure of course, but the burden of the hundred kilo backpack will be shared with teammates Tobias Foss, winner of the Tour de l’Avenir in 2019, 26 year old climber, Sam Oomen, and past Giro time trial stage winner, Jos van Emden.

Nonetheless, Dumoulin will hope to get off to a good start, and the stage two time trial, a mere 9.2 kilometres, offers an ideal opportunity. It looks well-suited to the former world time trial champion, who also took the silver medal in the men’s Olympic time trial last year. There has not been enough racing this year to indicate where his form is at, but a strong performance in the Giro’s first ‘race of truth’ would boost both his morale and his standing among his peers.

But even greater uncertainty surrounds his appetite for the suffering that the Giro undoubtedly entails. If stopping racing felt like a liberation, how will three weeks of attrition at the Giro feel? “Mentally I definitely needed to step back and take a helicopter view of my cycling career, my life and what I want to do in the future,” he said after claiming his Olympic silver medal.

At the same time, Dumoulin said too, that he had rediscovered his love for racing and for professional cycling. Now in his first Grand Tour since 2020, the depth of that reinvigorated passion will be tested in perhaps the hardest of Europe’s three national Tours. But one thing’s for sure: like others who have shown vulnerability, the popular and eloquent Dutchman won’t be lacking in support from well-wishers.

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