Tom Dumoulin lost the lead and fell to sixth overall yesterday in the Vuelta a España, but Dumoulin-mania swept The Netherlands over the last three weeks. With the race closing in Madrid on Sunday, the talk at home is about whether the 24-year-old could perhaps contend for the Tour de France.
Had Giant-Alpecin's Maastricht native won the Vuelta, he would have been the third grand tour winner from the Netherlands.
Joop Zoetemelk was the last in 1980, when he won the Tour de France. He also won the 1979 Vuelta. Dumoulin, however, slipped from a six-second lead to a 3-46-minute deficit to Astana's Fabio Aru.
"Dumoulin mania? Everyone wants to talk about the Tour de France now, for sure," Raymond Kerckhoffs, journalist for De Telegraaf told Cycling Weekly.
Kerckhoffs has covered cycling for the last 26 years and has never been in the position to see a Dutchman race for the overall title at a Grand Tour. Of course, after being the surprise package for three weeks, Dumoulin lost that chance yesterday.
Kerckhoffs explained that as the stages passed and Dumoulin appeared ready to win the Vuelta, the support for the rider grew. Every day, more and more Dutch journalists arrived at the Vuelta, including one from Dumoulin's local newspaper.
"NOS TV sent five more journalists out. Normally, my newspaper would have one piece a day, but now we have three stories a day," said Kerckhoffs.
"His local newspapers have a special two to three times a week. The local Limburg radio, normally called L1, changed its name a week ago to Radio Vuelta."
Dumoulin grew up next to the old finish of the Amstel Gold Race on the Maas Boulevard. The first time he saw the race, it wasn't the cyclists that made an impression, but the helicopters.
Incidentally, Dumoulin now lives outside of Maastricht with his girlfriend in Valkenburg, where the Amstel Gold Race finishes on the Cauberg climb.
"He didn't want to become a cyclist. He absolutely wanted to become a doctor, but in The Netherlands, around 300 apply to medicine school and they only accept around 100. It's a lottery,” Kerckhoffs continued.
“He gave himself one year on cycling, to see how far he could go. He told me at the Tour Down Under that if he was selected for the school, he would have never become a cyclist."
Step inside the Giant-Alpecin mechanic's truck
His break came in 2010, when he was invited for the Nations Cup in Portugal. His first race was a time trial stage, but Dumoulin had never ridden a time trial bike.
He won the stage, on a bike borrowed from his team-mate, and held on for the overall classification win. Later that year, he won another time trial in the Baby Giro d'Italia or the GiroBio.
"After that year, he was due to go to Cervélo, but the team folded," Kerckhoffs said, “so he went back to the development team for one year.”
Giant-Alpecin and Dumoulin will meet after the World Championships in Richmond, where Dumoulin is due to race the team time trial, the time trial and the road race.
After placing third to Sir Bradley Wiggins last year, he wants to win gold. He wants to do the same in the Rio 2016 Olympics too, but they may decide to race the Tour de France for the classification beforehand.
That seems to be what everyone in The Netherlands wants.
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