Tom Dumoulin was given all the space to make the route to Tokyo as pleasant as possible for him


Tom Dumoulin during the Dutch National Time Trial Championship, which he won last June.Statue Vincent Jannink / ANP

The body weight of 69 to 70 kilos is at the desired level. The position on the time trial bike is in order. That was once again established in December last year, in the wind tunnel of the Eindhoven University of Technology. There is nothing wrong with the bike itself. Aerodynamic enough. Do nothing more.

What remains is the question of what else Tom Dumoulin (30) is doing in what has come to be called his project, the route to an Olympic medal after a 44 kilometers counterclockwise ride through the hills east of Fuji, on Wednesday 28 July.

After a self-selected four-month retreat, he decided in May to recharge for a return to the discipline in which he won stages in both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France and became world champion in 2017. At the Games in Rio de Janeiro, despite a sore wrist, there was already silver behind Fabian Cancellara. Last weekend he left for Tokyo.

National coach Koos Moerenhout has had regular telephone contact with him in recent times. Last week he visited him to hand over the orange uniform. He is confident in performing in Japan. ‘Tom regularly informed us that things are getting better. I’ve known him for a long time. When he says that, I believe it. In fact, he has only one assignment: to show the best of himself. No one knows where that will take him.’

chasing the feeling

The reflection on whether Dumoulin still wanted to be a cyclist led to a preparation in which he had more of his own voice than in previous years. He asked for more space, he got more space. He wanted to get rid of having to fold completely into programs, schedules, blocks. Skipping the interval training, for example, if he already has the idea during the warm-up that it might not be so wise. He wanted to stay closer to himself. The feeling behind.

According to Jumbo-Visma, it was mainly obligations that he imposed on himself during his first season with the team. He would also have been looking for it after his departure from Sunweb: an environment that breathed top sport at all levels. He initially felt ‘very happy’ about it.

The system was not that rigid, say his supervisors. Never an angry trainer called him when it turned out that a block had been skipped. On an altitude training course in the Alps, he almost timidly asked if he could take his mountain bike with him. Of course you could. Whether he could also do a long endurance training on his own instead of a ride with the whole team. Why not? It all fitted in with the picture that Dumoulin later sketched in his explanation of the decision to turn his back on cycling for the time being: he was only concerned with meeting expectations that others would have of him. He didn’t know what was good for him anymore.

Since his decision to become an Olympian again, the team has followed him, apart from a few encounters, mainly from a distance. Sporting director Merijn Zeeman and Mathieu Heijboer, head of performance, have regular telephone consultations. They see the dates of his workouts. Dumoulin sets out the main lines himself, they can make adjustments if desired.

overtrained

The fact that he declared last month after the Dutch National Time Trial Championships that he had become overtrained last year – he was no longer tired, but ‘just sick’ after an effort – may have come as a surprise to the outside world, but his team was less surprised. They didn’t chase him over the blade, that’s for sure. He had mainly been ‘hard to bear’ because of the stress, the doubt, the restlessness in the head that he did not dare to express.

In May, Dumoulin presented his plans for his return to the team: participation in the Tour de Suisse, the NK time trial in Emmen (where he won) and the NK on and around the Vam mountain (where he stopped prematurely). At the end of June and the first week of July, he stayed at altitude in Livigno, in the Italian Alps. Back in Limburg, the torrential rains of last week did not exactly help to train fully. He was not always on the time trial bike; he is not the type of rider who is maniacal about it. The awkward position and difficult steering can lead to reluctance.

The belief in Dumoulin is based on the result of the time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles, on the penultimate day of the Tour de France of 2020. He finished second behind Tadej Pogacar, who was allowed to put on the yellow jersey on the Vosges Col. There were fragments of the class from its peak years. There he had been able to put the worries aside. There he could accelerate on passages that suited him, take rest if possible. Task-oriented driving, is what the coaching staff calls it.

younger generation

The team does not dare to predict whether its larger interpretation will lead to a podium place in Japan. The up and down course is certainly in his favor. His performance at the Dutch National Championships in Emmen looked solid. The data from Livigno made it clear that some more watts of power would have to be added.

National coach Moerenhout did not have access to Dumoulin’s data. He emphasizes that they are not saving graces. “They are part of the whole package. There is so much more involved: motivation, bike control, perseverance, the shape of the day. It also says nothing about your competitors. Those kinds of aspects are sometimes lost in all those data analyses.’

The greatest danger will probably come from a younger generation: the up-and-coming talent Remco Evenepoel (21), world champion Filippo Ganna (24) or teammate Wout van Aert (26). Moerenhout: ‘Behind that is a large group of contenders. And yes, Tom is definitely one of them.’

Dumoulin himself told the Limburg broadcaster L1 last week that his performance will not be decisive for the continuation of his cycling life. He called the build-up to the Games ‘a very nice process’. ‘That’s mainly what I take with me. My feeling about this will not change if the result in Tokyo is disappointing.’

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