‘Yeah damn, I’ve been one of the best in the world’

NOS Cyclingtoday, 07:00

It was spring in Limburg. Thousands of people flocked, all dressed in pink, to catch a glimpse of their new sports hero: Tom Dumoulin. The man who, after winning the Giro in 2017, suddenly stood on the same pedestal as Jan Janssen and Joop Zoetemelk.

From then on it was Jan, Joop and Tom. And everyone at that Market in Maastricht knew for sure that day: it wouldn’t be long before we’ll be back here, dressed in yellow. But things turned out differently.

This year, Dumoulin announced his retirement from cycling. It will remain for good with that overall victory in the Giro. “It has been beautiful,” he tells the NOS from a beach in Australia.

Dumoulin now knows: ‘Getting to the top is easier than staying there’

The reason for his departure has been known for some time. In June, the 31-year-old Limburger already announced his decision to the world. And where Dumoulin would initially ride the World Cup in Wollongong this week as the final piece, he decided to stop there in August. “I no longer think it is the most important thing in the world to win a match. And then it is difficult to do top sport.”

He wants to look at life differently, he says from Wollongong, where he is now on holiday; he had already booked the tickets anyway.

He no longer wants to be part of a traveling circus where he can’t be himself. In which something more is expected of him than he is willing to give. It actually felt strange from 2017, the year in which he also won the World Time Trial Championship.

Watch here how Dumoulin drove to the Giro victory in 2017:

Dumoulin becomes the first Dutchman to win the Giro d’Italia

“Suddenly there was a lot more to it than I had experienced until then. Until then I was really doing it for myself. I thought it was cool to challenge myself to get better.”

Until then it was also one upward line, the career of Dumoulin. He won one mountain stage after another, was close to a final victory in the Vuelta. Taken silver at the Olympics. All achievements that no Dutchman had done for him in decades. And he didn’t just challenge himself to get better, he did.

But once on top of the mountain, the view turned out to be not so pretty. “From that moment on I also started doing it for others. Others also thought it was very important that I cycled. My team, sponsors, fans. I got the feeling that it was also very important that my team was satisfied with what I did.”

He was not much more than an okay climber. What he has delivered in his career, give it a try.

Dumoulin’s former team boss Iwan Spekenbrink

He felt that pressure, those expectations, especially strongly himself. And he couldn’t get the crowds on that square in Maastricht from his retina. “It is not the case that someone has said that to me, like: in two weeks the Tour is and we demand from you that you perform to the best of your ability and ride on the podium. I gave that interpretation myself. But I’ve never been able to let go of that feeling completely.”

He gradually came to the conclusion that he did not want to continue with that feeling. For the outside world, the first major signal of this only came in January 2021, when it temporarily stopped. He returned to go for the highest attainable, but Olympic gold also proved too ambitious last year.

The outside world still has to get used to

He is now at peace with the way it turned out. Although the outside world still has to get used to it. “When I talk to people, it’s like: what happened? Why did you stop at 31? But I just want to look back proudly on my career and think: yeah damn, I was a pro for 11 years and I I’ve been one of the best in the world.”

Check out the images below from the 2017 World Time Trial Championship, of which Dumoulin now says: “That was my best day on a bike ever”

World time trial title 2017: Dumoulin almost overtakes Froome

“I’ve had amazing results. I’ve won a Grand Tour, I’ve been a world champion. I want to look at it from a positive perspective. And first I want to take a few steps back, to find that proud feeling.”

When he has found that feeling, he then starts thinking about what he is going to do. Because he doesn’t know yet.

2015: Dumoulin surprises favorites and wins uphill in Vuelta

Dumoulin’s counter stopped at 22 victories, 21 of which for the team of Iwan Spekenbrink, with whom he was under contract from 2012 to 2019. The manager of the current Team DSM looks back with admiration. “He’s done a lot for his profession. What he’s delivered in his career… Give it a go.”

In his mind, Spekenbrink likes to go back to 2014 and the almost deserted streets on the French island of Corsica. There he experienced the first victory of his pupil in a time trial. “It was in the Criterium International. The field of participants was not great, but that showed what an excellent time trialist he really was. He took the leader’s jersey. But he lost it a day later uphill.”

An ‘okay climber’

Spekenbrink will always remember those two days. Because until the autumn of 2021, when Dumoulin once again took Olympic silver, it turned out what he could do in a time trial and what he actually fell short of uphill. “He wasn’t much more than an okay climber.”

2016: Dumoulin wins heroic Tour stage to Arcalis

With those words, Spekenbrink does not want to disqualify Dumoulin. It was not. He wants to say: in the years after 2014 he actually got the most out of his career.

“Most riders who are not the best climbers can go deep and maybe return once or twice in a mountain stage, but the next day they lose ten minutes or more. Tom didn’t. He could, like in that Giro in 2017 going very deep for five, six or seven days in a row and never lose the connection. We sometimes forget that. A lot had to be done to do that at that level.”

The drive to the Stelvio was illustrative of this. The competition jointly drove him away from him, but Dumoulin still kept the pink jersey:

2017: in pink leader’s jersey, Dumoulin wins mountain stage to Oropa

“We can all still laugh about that, that incident. But that group drives away and its elastic does not break. The day of the Finistère a year later, when Froome undertook that solo there? The same thing happened there. Everyone left Tom did the job and he didn’t break again.”

Leaving too early?

Spekenbrink has always kept in touch with Dumoulin. Although he never made it a secret that he regretted the departure of his pupil in the summer of 2019. He would have liked to do everything in his power for one more year to see if there was a Tour victory in it. In retrospect, that should have happened in the corona year 2020.

Spekenbrink concludes: “We must not forget how much he suffered. It is very clever what he has done. People should continue to admire that.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Yeah damn Ive world

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