Tom Dumoulin’s decision to pause his racing career with immediate effect has been greeted by a wave of understanding and compassion. His Jumbo-Visma team has offered their unconditional support and not put a time frame on any of his plans, while former teammates like Marcel Kittel have offered their support too.
While Dumoulin’s decision to leave the Jumbo-Visma training camp on Saturday and take time away from the sport has been backed by his team, they also know that they must try and fill the athletic void left by the 30-year-old Dutchman, who on Friday was announced as a joint leader for the Tour de France. Those plans look all but over at this point but team director Merijn Zeeman knows that several riders on the squad’s long roster will see Dumoulin’s step back as an opportunity.
“Of course it has an impact,” Zeeman said in a video posted on the team’s website on Saturday evening.
“Tom is a fantastic rider. But in the end, is it Team Jumbo-Visma. We have a group of 27 riders, of which Tom, unfortunately, is not part of the team for the time being. There are also riders who will seize the opportunity. Spots become available in beautiful races. We will now start to think about that. We still have a very strong team. And Tom being happy, who feels good about himself, who wants nothing more than to be a top athlete, is of course a great rider for Team Jumbo Visma. But if Tom doesn’t feel happy and doesn’t want to do this, it automatically means it’s not good for the team either. We both came to that conclusion. With an understanding for each other. And now we’re moving on.”
What ‘moving on’ means is unclear and it’s far too early to speculate on which riders could step in at both the Tour de France and the cobbled Classics. For now, Zeeman – who worked with Dumoulin at Giant Alpecin before bringing him to Jumbo-Visma – simply wants to provide the rider with space and time that he needs.
“I don’t think there should be an end date in this kind of process,” he said.
The end date has been approaching from day one. This really is a process, a natural process. Searching for yourself. There should be no end date. We as a team, the sponsors, the staff, his teammates, support him. I think Tom really feels that support. We will see how life goes. For now, it’s all about Tom as a human being and he’s taking a break.”
‘Of course, it’s heavy news. We’re going to miss a very good rider for the time being. In the end, the people always come before the athletes. We have talked about that a lot for a long time. We gave Tom all the help he needed, already last season. In the end, the same question kept coming up and, in close consultation with us, he decided to take a break for the time being to come to his senses. And we support him in that. We have also shown understanding for it.
The shock news of Dumoulin’s decision highlights several important aspects within the sport, not least the sheer amount of pressure professional athletes are under at all times. The age of social media and online scrutiny only amplifies the demands and burdens placed on riders’ shoulders, and Zeeman acknowledged that Dumoulin – who has talked about the mental as well as physical challenges riders face in the past – needs to take stock and find out what makes him happy before considering his next steps. Zeeman added that he could see that Dumoulin had been struggling for some time, and the rider even admitted that he contemplated retirement following last year’s Tour de France.
“We have been working very closely. More than one and half years now, I think. During that time we naturally get to know very well how our people are doing, what is happening, what people are up against. What Tom ran into in this case. In that, there was no improvement. That he has not yet answered the life questions that he has. That doesn’t come as a surprise. In the end, we made the decision together,” Zeeman said.
“In any case, we have experts who support us in these matters. That doesn’t just apply to Tom, it applies to the whole team. In fact, from the moment we started working together, these kinds of issues arose. At first, still, part of the supervision. Of course, with this kind of thing, it’s not that it doesn’t… Just like in the normal world, it happens in the world of top sport and we try to deal with it as well as we can. That’s what Tom has been doing from the very beginning when he joined the team. I also think that he indicated in the past those kinds of questions played a role before.”
“I think that it’s transcending top sport. We live in a hugely competitive world with each other and we’re constantly working to become better and to develop. But above all, we’re human beings. All this takes place from that foundation. In the base, you should just really enjoy what we’re doing. You should enjoy the training rides, enjoy the hard training, enjoy getting better, enjoy setting goals together. If the pleasure gradually fades, away you get to the point where you’re asking yourself whether you still want it. Do I really enjoy it as much as I want? We got Tom professional help with this. We worked hard on that. In that process, ‘I don’t know if I still want it’s also an outcome. In the end, it’s really Tom’s decision and we support him in that.”