Tom Dumoulin had barely left Imola when he realised he wouldn’t be receiving a rainbow jersey on his return. The out-and-back nature of the World Championships time trial route meant that riders tackled a headwind in the first half before returning to the finish with the breeze at their backs, but the Dutchman already sensed the direction in which his challenge was headed.
“I was just riding a very bad time trial. After five minutes, I knew it wasn’t going to be,” Dumoulin said after placing 10th, some 1:14 down on new world champion Filippo Ganna (Italy). “I fought to the finish, but there was nothing.”
Despite his misgivings, Dumoulin beat on against the wind as far as the intermediate check at Borgo Tossignano, where he did enough to clock the fifth best time to that point, 45 seconds down on Ganna and just 10 seconds off the medals. His podium challenge floundered on the return trip, however, where the effect of the brisk wind at his back was offset by the heaviness of his legs.
“I thought that the difference would be made mainly in the first part, so I rode a bit over my limit, hoping something wonderful would happen to my legs in the second part,” Dumoulin said. “That turned out not to be the case. I gave everything, but in the end I came up short.”
There was some mitigation for Dumoulin’s travails after the turn, as his gears stopped working in the finale, and he then narrowly avoided a calamitous crash when he overshot a sharp left-hand bend, unclipping a foot from the pedal to ensure he stayed upright.
“My shifting system stopped working in the last 10 kilometres and then came that corner,” Dumoulin said and laughed. “I’m quite an artist on the bike when I have to be. My rear wheel slid from under me for a moment. That was a bit of a shock, but in the end I am here unscathed.”
Dumoulin had initially been unsure about his Worlds participation before coming around to the idea in the final days of the Tour de France, where he placed seventh overall in Paris. A star-crossed combination of injury, illness and the coronavirus lockdown meant that he had gone over a year without riding a time trial before he took second at La Planche des Belles Filles on the penultimate day for Jumbo-Visma, a performance that had augured well for Imola.
With next year’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games in mind, Dumoulin admitted beforehand that he was curious to see if the quick turnaround from the Tour to the Worlds favoured riders who had completed La Grande Boucle or those who had prepared specifically for the race in Imola.
Ganna’s victory suggested the latter, though Wout van Aert (Belgium) showed few ill effects from his Tour exertions by taking silver, 27 seconds after recouping considerable ground on the Italian in the second half of the course. “He didn’t ride fast in the first part, so that probably didn’t work out, but he did a good job,” Dumoulin said when informed of his Jumbo-Visma teammate’s splits.
Van Aert’s silver medal will only consolidate his status as the favourite for Sunday’s road race, but Dumoulin was reluctant to project too much from his own subdued display in the time trial. In the absence of Mathieu van der Poel, he will lead the Dutch team on a route that features some 5,000 metres of total climbing. But neither the topography nor the effort is comparable with Friday’s flat and fast time trial.
“We’ll just have to see. Today is disappointing for me. I felt better the past few days than I did today. That’s what a Grand Tour does to you, one day you feel better than another. That can also turn around for Sunday,” Dumoulin said about the upcoming 258.2km road race.
“In the end, this result doesn’t say anything about how I will be in the road race on Sunday. I’ve also won time trials and then a few days later I didn’t perform well in the road race. It’s also happened the other way around. This is not a yardstick for Sunday.”