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Tom Dumoulin will be pressing play after a season of pause next week.
Some seven months after squeezing the brakes on his pro cycling career, Dumoulin will be back revving his motor at the race that’s been on his mind since the 2016 Games – the Tokyo Olympic time trial.
Wednesday’s time trial will mark a symbolic crossroads for Dumoulin.
The Dutch ace pressed pause on life with Jumbo-Visma this January and disappeared from view to take stock. It was decided he would reconvene with team brass to set out his next steps after representing his nation at the Olympic road race and time trial.
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For now, Dumoulin is in race mode – career considerations will come later.
“Now I just want to focus on the Games,” Dumoulin told media Thursday. “Until now, we have made agreements and made a good plan up to and including the Games, with the appointment to sit down and talk afterward – talking about how it has been for me to be a cyclist again.”
Dumoulin was best of the time trialing rest behind Fabian Cancellara in Rio and he’s been itching for gold ever since. The 30-year-old believes the sweltering Japanese summer and lumpy 44km course on tap Wednesday gives him a chance.
“I really want to go for it. It is a beautiful course and I like the heat,” he said.
“I’ve had a very nice training camp – it’s been a good few weeks. I can only indicate whether my form was good, very good, or excellent after the time trial. But the preparation has gone very well and I am where I want to be.”
Many of the pre-race favorites such as Wout van Aert, Kasper Asgreen, and Stefan Küng raced their way into condition through the Tour de France this month. Dumoulin sat out the race and instead spent two weeks in the thin air of Livigno.
Life at altitude gave Dumoulin the space to train to his own agenda and time to mull his longer-term desires. He will bring that inner focus to the roads of Tokyo next week.
“I’m actually not concerned with what my competitors have done towards the time trial. It’s an individual test and that’s how I approach it,” he said. “I just have to deal with myself.”
Life after the Olympics
The Olympic TT means more than just medals for Dumoulin.
The 44km burn through Tokyo will reacquaint him with life at the center of the cycling world – the very thing that burdened him in recent years, and ultimately led to his decision to pause his time as a pro.
Dumoulin’s Olympic jaunt will make a stark contrast to his time dipping in and out of the sport on his own terms through the year so far.
After going off-grid through the spring, Dumoulin made an unexpected spectator appearance at April’s Amstel Gold Race. He was then spotted several times training in his Jumbo-Visma kit through early summer and he dabbed his toe back into the bunch at the Tour de Suisse. Dumoulin raced to his fourth national TT title shortly afterward.
The Olympic Games marks the decision date for Dumoulin. He is expected to sit down with the Jumbo-Visma management soon after Tokyo to decide what happens next – a full-time comeback, a return to the sidelines, or even a confirmation of retirement.
Will we see Dumoulin back in team colors later this summer?
There is some room for optimism. Dumoulin indicated when speaking this week that the routine and purpose of training had restoked a fire.
“I have enjoyed working towards a goal. And I could also distance myself at certain moments, have fun,” he said about his preparations for Tokyo. “That had become more difficult for me in recent years. That has been successful in this past period, and I cherish that.
“I’ve had a very nice experience. I was comfortable in my own skin. I’m looking forward to the Games, I’ve been happy to be a cyclist in recent months,” Dumoulin said.
The question remains whether Dumoulin can convert his love of training out of the spotlight and without obligation into the 24/7 pressure pot of WorldTour life.
A return to Jumbo-Visma would see Dumoulin thrust firmly back into the headlines. He occupies a cherished niche as the leading Dutch star at his nation’s team and media will be eager to chart his comeback.
Dumoulin’s openness, intelligence, and photo-friendly looks have long been a big hit with the local press and cycling-mad Dutch fans, and his home-hero status affords him a celebrity that the likes of Primož Roglič and Wout van Aert cannot match.
Should Dumoulin need more time, Jumbo-Visma is likely to grant it so as to keep him in the team’s orbit.
Will a medal in Tokyo be enough to rekindle a love for full-time racing? Possibly, but the hype and scrutiny of the multi-national Games could also see Dumoulin deciding he prefers life outside of the pro ranks – and a medal would see him off with a bang.
There’s a sense the door will always be open for Dumoulin at Jumbo-Visma.
Tokyo may help him decide whether he wants to step through it or leave it closed a little longer.