Dumoulin’s future lies in Le Tour, but when?

Sunweb officials are playing it coy right now, but Tom Dumoulin’s future points toward the Tour de France.

With an eye on 2018, Dumoulin and co. are waiting to see what the Tour de France organizers come up with before committing to next year’s “grande boucle.”

“We still have to make the final decision, but the Tour de France is pretty likely,” said Sunweb director Aike Visbeek. “There are a lot of rumors about what the Tour will look like. We will wait to see.”

Sooner or later, Dumoulin will take on the Tour with the full intention of winning the yellow jersey. Many see Dumoulin as the first rider to have the time trial and climbing skills to truly take on Chris Froome. That is certainly the long-term goal. But if Tour organizers present a route that is tilted against Dumoulin’s strengths, July won’t be the centerpiece of his 2018 season.

That scenario, however, is unlikely.

After enjoying a breakout 2017 season, when the 26-year-old Dutchman became the first rider to win the Giro d’Italia and the world time trial title in the same season, the Tour is the next obvious step.

Filled with confidence, Dumoulin wants the challenge of racing the Tour for the podium.

“We know if he goes to the Tour, he has to race against Chris Froome,” Visbeek said. “That is also an advantage for him. It gives him a motivation to test himself against the best.

“The Giro podium was already a very strong podium, with [Nairo] Quintana and [Vincenzo] Nibali. Tom has to bring his A-game next year to race against guys like Froome. It’s a good position start for Dumoulin next year.”

Dumoulin will close out his season at Tre Valli Varesini and the Giro di Lombardia, and then will take a breather before going into the challenges of 2018.

The Tour route will be revealed October 17, and Dumoulin will be as interested as anyone to see what they come up with. The more time trials the better for the “Butterfly from Maastricht.”

Though Tour officials deny they design a course to attract a specific rider profile, seeing a Tour route with more time trial kilometers next year won’t be a surprise. This year’s Tour was short on TTs, and though ASO likely won’t deliver a TT-friendly course like they did in 2012, more kilometers against the clock are expected.

Read more about how the Tour route is designed >>

What’s little we know about the 2018 Tour route is intriguing. The race starts in France’s Vendée with a traditional road stage, so no prologue or short time trial. There’s a likely ride over the Passage du Gois, the treacherous cobblestone causeway that’s underwater during high tide. A team time trial could be in the works in the opening stages. There are rumors of a return to the cobblestones of northern France in week 1. Dumoulin’s Sunweb team recently won the world team time trial championships as well in Norway.

The Tour will also start one week later, due to soccer’s 2018 World Cup, and next year’s race will see eight riders, instead of nine, per team. With Froome riding to join the Tour’s five-win club, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Visbeek said Dumoulin’s ambitions don’t end with the Giro. The Tour is the ultimate challenge for any professional rider, and with his time trial prowess and climbing legs only improving, Dumoulin is poised to challenge Froome and the powerful Team Sky stranglehold on the Tour.

“He is a guy who is very focused. The biggest thing is the confidence knowing that we can do it. The challenge now is to keep working, and stay focused on the details,” Visbeek said. “Tom was making the sacrifices now for many years. To have that payback will only motivate him even more. It was an historical victory, and if he keeps working that way, there will be even more.”

So what did the Giro win mean for Dumoulin? In a word, confidence.

“Now he has the knowledge and confidence about how to win a grand tour,” Visbeek said. “And for our team, it’s even more important. Now we know how to work and manage a grand tour. And that will only help us in the future.”

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VN podcast, ep. 43: Tour redux; Lizzie Deignan talks La Course

Welcome to the VeloNews cycling podcast, where we discuss the latest trends, news, and controversies in the world of cycling.

We were promised a race full of attacks and excitement — did the 2017 Tour de France route deliver? Spencer Powlison argues that it didn’t. On the ground in France, Fred Dreier got really sweaty. He also got peeved that Chris Froome and Team Sky shut most journalists out of traditional rest day press conferences.

Plus, we talk about the unconventional La Course women’s race. First it went up the Izoard. Then, it raced around Marseille. Former world champion Lizzie Deignan liked part of it — but not all. Also we talk to Polish champion Kasia Niewiadoma.

If you like what you hear, subscribe to the VeloNews podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. Also, check out the VeloNews Fast Talk training podcast with Trevor Connor and Fretz.

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Commentary: Bring back press conferences, Mr. Froome!

This past Saturday, Chris Froome sat in a conference room in Marseille and faced the unwashed masses of the Tour de France press corps. Do not for a moment underestimate my use of the word “unwashed” here. Marseille was swamp-hot on Saturday. Many of us had not done laundry since stage 10.

The pungent press peppered Froome with questions ranging from the bizarre (Will you come to China this year?) to the basic (What was the best moment of this year’s Tour?) to the strangely personal (You’re getting older, how does that feel?). The consummate media pro, Froome offered insightful perspective, cracked jokes, and sidestepped dozens of PR land mines, all while maintaining his usual aww-shucks demeanor.

Chris Froome is very good at media.

Yet for much of this year’s Tour, Froome kept those ninja-like media skills to himself. It is tradition at Le Tour for the maillot jaune to hold a press conference during at least one of the Tour’s rest days. The conferences provide an opportunity for journalists to pose more thorough questions than what can be asked in a post-race scrum.

This year, Team Sky held zero press rest day press conferences. Instead, it hosted an invite-only Q-and-A with select broadcast outlets (no print or digital) on the Tour’s second rest day. Froome took personal responsibility for the silence, and chalked Sky’s media policy up to — you guessed it — marginal gains.

“Rest days are meant to be rest days, and a big press conference is certainly not conducive to recovery,” he said on Saturday. “I felt as though it really helped me this year, being able to switch off on my rest days. That’s what those days are there for, otherwise they’d be called media days.”

Look, I have no doubt that press conferences are annoying and repetitive and are not great for resting sore legs. You must meet with the team media director to go over the potential PR grenades, and then sit down in front of a roomful of pesky reporters (the worst!). But with all due respect to the four-time Tour champ, his 2017 media blackout stunk worse than a roomful of sweaty cycling journalists on a muggy July afternoon in Marseille. Next year I hope he brings the press conferences back. Ditching them altogether sets a bad precedent for the sport.

By inviting some media while denying others, Froome — whether knowingly or inadvertently — copied the “Bad Old Days” media playbook of Lance and Johan. I’ll save you my in-depth analysis on the power of selective media access. Instead, just compare “Every Second Counts” with “Seven Deadly Sins.” 

Froome also missed an opportunity to bring back transparency — even just a shred of it — to an otherwise cloudy year for team Sky. In case you missed the 12 months, Team Sky has endured The Year of PR Hell thanks to the cascade of bad press and and some heavy parliamentary probing due to the JiffyWiggogate mess. Froome distanced himself from the mess and clarified his perspective on the situation. Would journalists have asked Froome about Fancy Bears and TUEs and jiffy bags in a press conference? You bet. But denying reporters that opportunity just reinforces Sky’s reputation for obfuscation, not transparency.

Finally, Froome’s invite-only press policy set in motion the worst media moment in recent Tour de France memory. On the Tour’s second rest day, a reporter from Cyclingnews.com arrived at the Sky hotel without an invitation. Team Sky Principal David Brailsford reportedly berated the journalist in front of other reporters for his critical coverage of the team, telling the reporter to, “Stick it up your arse.” Details of the event quickly made their way online, adding more clouds to Sky tour.

Look, I do not wish to bore you with an insider-baseball analysis of the Tour de France’s media infrastructure. Opportunities for any type of in-depth questioning of the major players are few. Every day there are chaotic scrums, mindless TV interviews, and video chats with the maillot jaune. Few of these interactions provide the opportunity for follow-up questions or inquiries about broader topics than the race action.

Does a press conference solve all of these problems? Of course not. But these conferences do enable journalists to broach broader topics. This media dynamic is especially important for Chris Froome, because Froome has a nuanced and intelligent perspective on his sport. He has great takes!

On Saturday we stinking journalists also asked Froome about Sky’s year from hell. We asked him about his perceived place among cycling’s greatest champions. We asked Froome to share his perspective on pro cycling’s budgetary inequity, whether the sport needs a salary cap.

Froome sat for a minute to collect his thoughts, and then gave his answer:

“If you just look at football for example. You look at the best teams typically win the most and can then afford to buy the biggest players and the best players and it’s almost this cycle. We’ve found a similar thing in cycling. Obviously I think my teammates have shown that they are the strongest team in the race. We’ve won the team classification. Mikel Landa has just missed the podium as well. It’s been an amazing race for us this year. If that’s all due to budget — I can’t say. I personally think that is how professional sport works. If a team is successful it is able to reinvest its funds and develop the sport further. If you put a budgetary cap maybe it doesn’t quite incentivize successes they way it is at the moment.”

It was an articulate, thorough answer that would have NEVER come out in a post-race scrum. Froome had to be present and so did the media — stink and all.

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Is Dumoulin the man to dethrone Froome?

Tom Dumoulin stunned cycling’s hierarchy to win this year’s Giro d’Italia, besting the race’s favorites in the individual time trial and then climbing alongside them on the toughest peaks. He even endured cycling’s most famous “call of nature” at the base of the Stelvio during the race’s stage 16, a moment that almost spoiled everything.

Now, many in the cycling world believe Dumoulin is the new rival for Chris Froome, with the skill set that could defeat the British rider at the Tour de France.

“Among the new generation of GC riders, [Dumoulin] is at the top,” said BMC coach and former pro Marco Pinotti. “I think he will be one of the favorites for the Tour de France for the next five years. He has the physical skill, and mental skill.”

DUMOULIN WON A LIVELY and taut 100th edition of cycling’s most unpredictable grand tour. It was the most complete performance in a decade. The Dutchman beat back a fleet of the world’s best climbers with a mix of panache and confidence coupled with climbing finesse and a final-day time trial knock-out.

Journalists often compared Dumoulin to time trial great Miguel Indurain, who won his first major grand tour at 27. There’s a sense within cycling’s pundits that Dumoulin is cycling’s next big rider.

“We already saw what he could do in 2015, and we knew that he could win a grand tour,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué, who directed Indurain in the 1990s. “He rode an impeccable Giro. He deserved the victory.”

Dumoulin’s path to the Giro’s maglia rosa and his steady rise to being the new GC man on the block has two narratives: first, his ascent from the depths of disappointment in the 2015 Vuelta a España to the height of success in the Giro some 20 months later. Second, how Dumoulin fended off a band of climbers in what was arguably the deepest Giro field in decades.

“I’m not the first time trialist who can do well in the mountains,” Dumoulin said. “Miguel Indurain is five steps ahead of me.”

Ask anyone about Dumoulin and they all agree he is a cool cat. He grew up in Maastricht, in the “hilly” part of the Netherlands (elevation 150 feet above sea level). At 6-foot-1 and 157 pounds, he is tall with wide shoulders, and he has found a way to become extremely aerodynamic and powerful simultaneously. He once wanted to become a doctor, but after scoring early successes on the bike, decided to go all-in with cycling. Dumoulin brings intelligence and curiosity to his racing.

“He is very funny and smart, but very competitive, too,” said American teammate Chad Haga. “I’ve seen how hard he worked for this Giro. We spent weeks together at altitude. Tom came here believing he could win.”

Dumoulin turned pro in 2012, and quickly made marks against the clock, winning the bronze medal behind Bradley Wiggins at the 2014 world championships. It was his break-out Vuelta in 2015 that saw Dumoulin’s grand tour potential come to the fore. Without truly targeting the race, he came within one mountain stage of winning the Netherlands’s first grand tour since 1980. It was only superior tactics by Astana that delivered the win to Fabio Aru on the penultimate stage.

“When he lost the Vuelta two years ago, it wasn’t because he wasn’t ready for it. It was because he got out-maneuvered by another team,” said Orica-Scott sport director Matt White. “Had there been anyone else in that valley, he would have won it. He’s been around a couple of years. He’s the man of the future for the grand tours.”

Despite the promising performance in the 2015 Vuelta, he turned all of his attention to honing his time-trial form for 2016. He had two major objectives: the time trials at the Tour de France and the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. He delivered two stage wins in France, including the stage 13 time trial, and won silver in Rio, ahead of Froome in bronze.

“Tom is used to performing under pressure,” said Sunweb sport director Aike Visbeek. “That Tour win had the entire nation watching him, even the king. So he doesn’t get nervous in big races anymore.”

Central to his Giro success was how Dumoulin changed his training over the winter — from one-off peaks targeting specific stage wins to racing and defending for three weeks. When the team saw the Giro’s parcours last winter, they knew it was an ideal next step in Dumoulin’s development. He spent most of his winter and spring camped at altitude in Spain.

“Tom lost weight, a few kilos, and went to training camps for weeks and weeks at Sierra Nevada and Tenerife,” Visbeek continued. “He came to the Giro ready to race.”

Dumoulin is a straight-talker, practical, and not afraid to speak his mind. Always keen to share his thoughts, Dumoulin even joked after his roadside issues on the Stelvio. On more than a few occasions during the Giro, he ruffled feathers during his grand tour coming-out party.

The most telling moments came following an intense defense at Ortisei deep in the Dolomites. He kicked off an old-school “he-said, she-said” polemic when he chided Vincenzo Nibali and Quintana for not helping to chase, haranguing them with, “I hope they lose their podium spots.” They might call him the “Butterfly of Maastricht,” but he clearly has a sting.

“He is a gentleman, but you have to be tough in the mind to be able to win a grand tour,” Visbeek explained. “When you have the jersey, you know they are going to attack you. He is learning that.”

DUMOULIN’S VICTORY WAS IMPORTANT on many levels. The statistics alone are impressive — the first Dutch rider to win the Giro; the first Dutch grand tour winner since Joop Zoetemelk in 1980; and only the third Dutch cyclist in history to win a grand tour.

“He is the next big GC rider,” White said. “I think the Tour de France suits him better than the Giro. At next year’s Tour, he will go into it as one of the favorites. He can match Froome in the time trials, and from what he’s shown at the Giro, staying with the best climbers in the world, he can match him there, too.”

Indeed, his victory seemed to harken the arrival of the first rider who could truly challenge Froome in the Tour on equal footing. While riders like Nibali and Quintana have proven pesky to Sky’s dominance, no one packs that elusive combination of time trial strength and climbing chops to take on Froome on equal terms. On top of that, Dumoulin’s gritty Giro victory only served to prove that he will not crack under pressure.

“When you are leading a grand tour, everybody will want to steal the jersey,” Pinotti said. “It’s a mental fight. He is really showing that he can handle this.”

Dumoulin also hails from cycling’s “new generation,” and neither he nor his team are tainted by the scandals that ripped the sport apart a generation ago.

“Among the new generation of GC riders, Tom is
at the top. I think he will be one of the favorites for the Tour de France for the next five years.”

– Marco Pinotti, BMC Racing coach

Dumoulin’s Giro confirmation certainly put him front and center on Team Sky’s radar. “I’ve been following him for a few years, and what he showed during this Giro, I saw it coming awhile now,” Sky principal Dave Brailsford told Dutch journalists. “He has the skil lset to win the Tour. Of course, we want to win a few more first.”

With Froome likely to have only another few years at the top level, some speculated that Sky might try to lure Dumoulin away from Sunweb. However, after winning the Giro, he re-signed with the Dutch Sunweb squad through 2021. The team aims to bring additional heft in the mountains and flats to support him for an assault on the Tour.

“We want to build a team around Tom,” Visbeek said. “He feels comfortable on this team. This is his home, and we are going to do everything we can to help him try to win the Tour.”

Dumoulin’s Tour attempt will have to wait at least until 2018. For the rest of this year, he’ll target the world time trial championship in Norway. A Froome-Dumoulin might have come at this summer’s Vuelta, but the Dutchman confirmed he won’t race the Spanish grand tour, while Froome will.

Dumoulin’s already done something that Froome never has: win the Giro d’Italia.

“Now I want to try to win the Tour de France,” Dumoulin said. A big smile creased his face in Milan. “I need to keep working and improving, but I believe I can do it.”

It’s becoming obvious that when Dumoulin sets his sights on something, he delivers. Cue up the hype machine: Froome vs. Dumoulin, coming soon to a Tour de France near you.

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The Shot: Climax on Col d’Izoard

2017 Tour de France, stage 18: Briancon – Col d’Izoard, 179.5km

The Col d’Izoard is a climb of legends in the heart of the French Alps and in the 2017 Tour de France, it happened to be one of only three summit finishes. Normally the Izoard features on stages with more renowned Alpine finishes such as Alpe d’Huez, La Toussuire, or Gap.

The last mountain stage in this year’s Tour finished on the iconic summit. The riders ascended through the lunar-like Casse Déserte, making it tough to choose the best place to grab images. Iri elected to tackle the Casse Déserte. I [Jim] handled the summit finish. I was fully committed to the finish line shot and was secretly hoping for an iconic winning moment. Perhaps a win so bold as the maillot jaune crossing the line first? It could happen, but heck, any dominating solo victory was sure to be epic in the truest sense of the word.

After parking on the backside of the climb (incidentally, the side they climbed on the previous visit to the Izoard), we reached the summit and boom: The image was immediately striking for multiple reasons. The most stunning component was the “reveal” as the riders closed on the finish line. Also, they were graced with an essentially clean background — just jagged spikes of the distant Alpine range.

I arrived at the finish a full three hours ahead of the race only to find photographers already there and claiming spots. I got a front-row, low-angle position for this revealing finish line photo. Then, I had to decide what my framing and composition would be. My options were to shoot tight or a bit wider for more rider and maybe even the finish line banner as well. The peaks in silhouette provided the perfect backdrop, so I chose to start my shots in tighter on the reveal and zoom out a bit as the full bike crested to capture the rider head to toe with his arms up and the fan-lined road at his side. The fans were so energized and jubilant, you can feel their noise in the image.

As the stage played out, we were presented with a battle on this hallowed mountain landscape that one could only dream of. Frenchman Warren Barguil in the maillot à pois made a valiant effort to catch the lone leader and somehow pulled off the unthinkable: a solo victory in the king of the mountains jersey on top of the Col d’Izoard. It happened in the most majestic of places during the greatest race on Earth.

Key image specs:

• Canon 1DX
• Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
• 1/1250 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 320
• Focal Length: 349mm
• File format: RAW
• Shot from the front row of the finish line

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