The Vuelta a España came down to the wire this year, but the form and fitness of the overall contenders may have been lacking. Tom Dumoulin's team Giant-Alpecin trainer suggested that the circumstances may have allowed new stars to shine.
Dumoulin, 24, was one of the surprise stars of this year's three-week Spanish tour. He morphed from time trialist to someone who can climb and contend for the overall.
He led the race until the penultimate stage, the last mountain day, where he lost 3-52 minutes and the red leader's jersey to Astana's Fabio Aru. He finished sixth overall the next day in Madrid.
Besides Dumoulin, the race highlighted upcoming classification riders, 25-year-old Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) and 23-year-old Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka). Chaves placed fifth and Meintjes 10th.
"Comparing his numbers with what Warren Barguil [Giant-Alpecin] did last year in the Vuelta a España, the level looked higher last year," team coach, Adriaan Helmantel told Cycling Weekly.
Quintana, Valverde and Rodríguez raced to second, third and 29th overall in the Tour, respectively. Sky's Chris Froome, Tour winner, crashed and abandoned the Vuelta in the second week. Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) also went home after a crash. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), fourth in the Tour, was disqualified on the second day.
The combination of factors opened the door for some new names.
Dumoulin crashed and abandoned the Tour on stage three, but he came to the Vuelta prepared. Still with some of the benefits of a pre-Tour altitude camp in Sierra Nevada, Spain, in his legs, he travelled to the thin air of Livigno, Italy, to train.
"He had a good development in training and the level of competition was good for his performance," Helmantel said.
“Then he improved and became motivated to fight for it. It's really good, but not that we are blown away. The difference this time was that he was consistent for three weeks."
Though Dumoulin lost the red jersey and slipped out of the top three, people are still talking about what he could do in the Tour de France with the right parcours. Several, including Sky Principal David Brailsford, say that Dumoulin could improve his climbing while maintaining his time trial strengths, à la Bradley Wiggins, to compete for the Tour.
"To win the Tour? That's a big step to make," Helmantel said.
Helmantel explained that Dumoulin has to reach a higher level, one like his Vuelta competitors had in the Tour.
"He definitely needs to make steps in that direction. It's possible, but it's also possible that his level will stabilise and he can't do it. It's difficult to predict, but I don't see as impossible."
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