Tom Dumoulin says until Jumbo-Visma's day to forget on stage four of the Critérium du Dauphiné he would have said his team were favourites for the Tour de France.
Despite losing two of their leaders to crashes during the race's penultimate stage, Jumbo-Visma bounced back as Sepp Kuss took the stage five victory.
"Before yesterday I would have said yes [to being Tour favourites] but yesterday was really just a sh**ty day for us. Stevie is really banged up and Primož as well. There is still time to recover but it's not ideal," Dumoulin said after the finish.
"I suffered like crazy today, actually the whole week, but today was...urgh. S**t this was a hard race," Dumoulin said, having ended up seventh on GC, two minutes down on Dani Martínez.
For Dumoulin, who is in only his second race back since his season-ending crash at last year's Dauphiné, he's progressed throughout the week and says he feels as good as he did at the 2018 Tour when he finished runner-up.
"I'm slowly stepping up, I can be satisfied with that," the Dutchman said. "I think since the Tour de France 2018 I haven't felt like I felt today, good and in the mix."
In terms of what he thinks the team has learned during this warm-up race, the 29-year-old says it's been an indication that they are ready for the French Grand Tour and have a chance of breaking Ineos' grip on the yellow jersey.
"That we are very ready [for the Tour]," Dumoulin said about the education offered by the Dauphiné. "We suffered a bit yesterday and hopefully we'll be at full strength [by the start of the Tour] because I think we have a real shot at victory."
For Kuss, today was a chance for a small slice of personal victory before he goes back to being one of the strongest domestiques in the peloton at the Tour de France.
"After yesterday it was strange waking up in the morning, we were all a bit shocked," Kuss said, knowing the team would start the final stage without two of their leaders. "It was a weird day with all of the crashes. But it gave us the opportunity [today] to race aggressively. It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had on the bike. It was full-on from the start, everyone was really tired and I thought I could take advantage of that and also take advantage of being lower down on GC.
“I love being a helper but I also want to win races. This is a nice confirmation after my Vuelta win. It’s nice winning from a break like I did at the Vuelta, but on a stage like today I had to go head to head with the best riders," said Kuss. "It’s a morale boost going into the Tour, it gives you a sense of calm too."
Jumbo-Visma will hope Roglič and Kruijswijk will return to full fitness before the Grand Départ in Nice in a fortnight, but in Kuss and Dumoulin they have two riders who are on the up.
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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