Rumor Friday: What Is Going on With Tom Dumoulin & Jumbo-Visma?
Tom Dumoulin & Team BikeExchange are publicly courting, how did the Dutch star's relationship with Jumbo-Visma go south so fast?
New BTP Podcast: I talk to Strava Vice President of Communication, and host of the Choose the Hard Way podcast, Andrew Vontz, about the evolution (or lack thereof) of cycling in the USA.
Has Tom Dumoulin’s Relationship with Jumbo-Visma Turned Sour?
While summing up the powerhouse team Jumbo-Visma’s offseason moves during the most recent Weekly Transfer update, a single obvious blemish made itself apparent, which is the increasingly strange public relationship the team is navigating with its one-time GC star, Tom Dumoulin.
Dumoulin’s sparkingly performance at the 2017 Giro d’Italia seemed to crown him as Chris Froome’s heir apparent since his rare mix of lethal speed in both the time trial and on high alpine climbs gave him the exact physical tools needed to become a multi-time Tour de France winner. However, that rise has so far failed to materialize and instead of that 2017 Giro foreshadowing a glut of future grand tour wins, that inaugural grand tour victory is still his only three-week win, and with the rise of a new generation of riders like Tadej Pogačar, Jonas Vingegaard, and Egan Bernal, along with the emergence of late-blooming peers like Primož Roglic, could very well be his last.
A Waning Presence
This somber, yet ultimately realistic, prediction stands in shocking contrast to the space which Dumoulin occupied in the sport just a few years ago. But, a mix of near-constant injuries, bad luck, apparent discontent with his teams and the pressures of the sport, and in my opinion, an ability to overthink the sport at almost every turn, have conspired to derail what was once an absurdly promising career.
Tom Dumoulin PCS Points & Rankings Per Season
For example, since his breakout performance that landed him 6th place overall at the 2015 Vuelta a España, he has suffered from nearly endless injuries (2016 Giro: saddles sores, 2016 Tour: broken radius, 2019 Giro: sliced knee, 2020 Vuelta: fatigue, 2021-2022 off-season: fractured wrist), but his biggest obstacle to success appears to be his inability to line up at the race that best-suits his abilities, the Tour de France.
Since 2015, he has only lined up at the Tour de France twice, and if we narrow it down to times that it was his primary race for the season, it is only a single time, the 2020 edition. Of course, that was forced upon him since the COVID-shortened season meant the Tour was the opening race of the new-compressed calendar, and every top rider lined up for the race since they weren’t certain the other two grand tours would actually run to the endpoints. Additionally, his stock had fallen so much at this point that he didn’t head into the race as his team’s leader, but a second-option and super domestique for Roglic, who had supplanted him as the team’s primary leader.
Had Dumoulin’s schedule been managed differently and he had focused more singularly on the Tour, his career would most likely be radically different. He placed second to Geraint Thomas at the 2018 edition, even though he was coming off an extremely difficult second place at the Giro d’Italia (what I call the ‘plastic double’). If he instead had just focused on that year’s Tour, he would have been the favorite to win the race. The same goes for the 2019 Tour, which was won by Egan Bernal.
The main reason cited by Dumoulin over the years for eschewing the Tour in favor of the Giro has been the limited amount of individual time trial kilometers versus the Italian three-week race. But, this surface-level analysis pushes aside the reality that the raw amount of TT kilometers in a grand tour doesn’t tell the entire story, and the Tour, due to its presence of stronger teams and less-steep mountain passes compared to the Giro, will always lean more heavily on the ITTs to create time gaps. In fact, nearly every Tour skipped, or not prioritized, by Dumoulin, ended up being won in the time trials.
This completely unnecessary second-guessing of the Tour route makes it seem like Dumoulin, clearly an exceptionally smart person, is overthinking his calendar choices and that his former Sunweb team frankly just got too cute. They allegedly hired KPMG management consultants to outline Dumoulin’s racing schedule, which speaks to massively overthinking a relatively simple question and answer; the Tour de France nearly always favors time trialists, if you are a strong time trialist, it is the race to target.
Decreasing Leadership Opportunities
If you’ve been paying attention to Dumoulin’s public statements over the last two seasons, it is clear he isn’t happy with his role at Jumbo-Visma. The rise of Roglic, and now, Jonas Vingegaard, has squeezed his chances of leadership, and Dumoulin, a rider in his physical prime with two Olympic Silver medals to his name, rightfully doesn’t see himself spending the next few valuable years of his career working on the front for others.
Of course, his Jumbo team loves the idea of a rider of Dumoulin’s caliber sitting on the front for their GC leaders, but this conflict and the mismatched vision of roles within the squad, is most likely responsible for Dumoulin’s public flirtation with Team BikeExchange over the past few months.
L'Équipe reported back in September that Dumoulin was planning on breaking (or more likely being bought out by Giant) his contract with Jumbo to head to BikeExchange. This would actually make a lot of sense since BE desperately needs a viable GC leader and a rider who can notch results at the sport’s biggest races. The chatter has cooled in the months since then, but BikeExchange principal Brent Copeland is still publicly signaling that he’d love to have Dumoulin on the roster as soon as he becomes available (most likely at the end of his contract in 2023).
The most telling part about this saga is that Dumoulin has yet to come out and deny any of these rumors. Also, if we flashback to January 2021, when Dumoulin announced his surprise mini-retirement in the middle of the Jumbo team camp, something was clearly not in-sync between him and the team. The fact that they allowed one of their star riders to come to camp, do the press rounds about how he was excited for the reason, only to turn around the next day and say he is stepping away from the sport, tells me lines of communication between Dumoulin and the team are all but dead.
Another interesting detail is how Dumoulin chose to return to racing. Despite stepping away from the sport for an undefined amount of time in January, the Olympic time trial was clearly still a major goal for him, and his return to racing mirrored this. The key point here is that the Olympics is raced for national, not trade teams, and while he did come back just in time to race the Tour de Suisse for Jumbo, it was clearly just to tune-up for the Olympics. Afterward, he raced only the Benelux Tour for the team before hanging it up for the year. I have to imagine this wasn’t the team’s preference. I don’t have any insight into Dumoulin’s decision to step away from cycling for six months, but the nature of his return certainly speaks to a likely schism with Jumbo.
All of this combines to tell us that the l'Équipe was correct at the time, and Dumoulin likely attempted to have Giant, the bike brand which he rode to the 2017 Giro overall, and BikeExchange’s incoming sponsor, orchestrate a move away from Jumbo this off-season. My guess is that this attempt failed, and Dumoulin is now simply punching the clock at Jumbo and biding his time until the moment he can move to BikeExchange in 2023.
Why This Makes Sense
If Dumoulin wishes to return to the first GC option for a team, a move to BikeExchange makes complete sense. BikeExchange is a once-proud team that has been decimated in the transfer market over the past few seasons and suffered a significant talent drain (a post for premium subscribers will be coming soon). After a run of seasons punching above their weight in the UCI rankings, they finished 19th in 2021 and only finished ahead of two WorldTour teams (DSM and Qhubeka-NextHash). They need a rider who can generate results and they need to acquire that rider quickly.
UCI Team Rankings 2021 Season
Dumoulin could come into the team and make an immediate impact and would undoubtedly have sole leadership at the Tour de France. The team’s current only true GC leader, Simon Yates, had a decent season in 2021, but, at 29-years-old and with only a single Tour de France top ten result to his name (7th at the 2017 Tour), can’t be counted on to lead a mid-table WorldTour team.
How Did It Come to This?
If this rumored move does indeed come to fruition, it is an undeniable confirmation of the shocking degradation of both Dumoulin’s status as a GC star, as well as his relationship with Jumbo. Remember, Dumoulin broke his contract with Sunweb (DSM) to come to Jumbo as their big-name GC leader just two years ago. This also begs the question as to how Dumoulin will be used by Jumbo in 2022. The team has already come out and said Dumoulin could potentially start the Tour next season, but they certainly aren’t making any promises at this point. And with a rising star in Jonas Vingegaard, who, after a shocking second-place finish at the 2021 Tour, certainly deserves GC leadership at one of the three grand tours, it could be difficult for the team to find a race to let Dumoulin have outright leadership.
However, it isn’t completely clear if this is what Dumoulin wants. He (in)famously defied team orders and blew up his own GC position on stage 8 of the 2020 Tour de France, and signaled afterward that this was to take pressure off himself for the rest of the race. If he doesn’t want the pressure of GC leadership, then the move to BikeExchange could be the wrong decision and he would be better off staying at Jumbo.
This could all be seen as being overly negative towards Dumoulin, but it is important to point out that he is still one of the most talented riders in the sport, and is only an injury-free season away from revitalizing his GC career (however, with Dumoulin, that doesn’t appear likely at this point). If he does end up heading to the Tour in support of Roglic, who has struggled with staying upright throughout his entire career, he could easily find himself as Jumbo’s best chance of dethroning Tadej Pogačar. This raises an interesting thought experiment: If Dumoulin wins the 2021 Tour de France at Jumbo, does he still push for a move away from the team at the end of the season?