Tom Dumoulin’s fourth place to tee up Koen Bouwman better than any individual win on the Giro d'Italia
It may not have been how he had exactly hoped to mark his return to Grand Tour racing, but Tom Dumoulin’s support of teammate Koen Bouwman to victory in Stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia was arguably far better than any of his individual wins over the years. Felix Lowe on the towering Dutchman who would not take no for an answer during a pulsating stage in the Southern Apennines.
Highlights: Incessant day of attacking sees Bouwman seal first Grand Tour stage, Lopez stays in pink
There he was – arms aloft on the home straight celebrating as fine a win as you’ll see in this year’s Giro d’Italia. Days after dropping out of GC contention on Mount Etna, Tom Dumoulin bounced back in style on Friday as the architect of Jumbo-Visma’s first win on the Giro d’Italia for three years. Dropped twice in the frantic final 10km in Potenza, the rangy 31-year-old battled back on both occasions. And helped secure an astonishing win.
Not his win, mind. But a win for compatriot and teammate Koen Bouwman. Like Dumoulin, Bouwman had to fight back from being jettisoned from the leading quartet on the final climb. He could have sat up and contented himself with the blue jersey that was already his. But he ended the day with far more than that: a maiden Grand Tour stage win – and a win that could have no end of positive reverberations for Jumbo-Visma going forward.
What a turnaround for the Dutch team that we usually associate with the myriad successes of Primoz Roglic and Wout van Aert.
On Tuesday’s explosive summit finish, Dumoulin shipped seven minutes to end any realistic hopes of a high finish on his first Grand Tour since the 2020 Vuelta and his subsequent sabbatical. Jumbo-Visma’s young Norwegian star Tobias Foss conceded over two minutes to the GC favourites and Bouwman, the mountain lieutenant, a further minute.
“I worked hard to get here in the best shape possible, but I just don’t have the legs at the moment. I don’t know why. But it is like it is,” said Dumoulin as Jumbo-Visma were left licking their wounds.
With no rider in the top 20 on GC, the team’s decision to forgo bringing a sprinter looked all the more questionable – particularly when their young fastman Olav Kooij zipped to victory in the opening stage of the Tour de Hongrie the very next day.
Dutch rider Bauke Mollema rides behind Tom Dumoulin and Davide Formolo during a 7-men breakaway in the 7th stage of the Giro d'Italia 2022
Image credit: Getty Images
And yet by dropping off the GC radar, Dumoulin and Bouwman granted themselves the freedom to perhaps get themselves back into the picture by being allowed into the day’s break on Friday. A little more than that, for Bouwman rode much of the undulating route with a virtual maglia rosa around shoulders that were already guaranteed a blue jersey at the end of the day.
After what was perhaps one of the most tedious and dull stages in recent memory came one of the best. The somniferous stalemate of Stage 6 was followed by a spectacle so antithetic that it might well have been an entirely different sport. If Thursday was a French art-house film whose only saving grace was its zippy climax then its sequel was a Marvel action film of unrelenting twists, turns and sucker punches.
‘Unbelievable’ – Bouwman praises Dumoulin after ‘overcoming troubles’ to win Stage 7
It took the best part of two hours and 70km of edge-of-the-saddle, relentless uphill hustle-and-bustle for a breakaway to form – two hours in which we not only saw the usual suspects in Thomas De Gendt, Alessandro De Marchi and Wout Poels have a pop, but also Richard Carapaz throwing caution to the wind with a downhill attack with Ineos teammate Jonathan Narvaez and Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel. Bonkers, eh?
When Dumoulin returned after an early puncture and “found myself by coincidence” in a strong chasing quartet alongside teammate Bouwman, Jumbo-Visma certainly made the most of it. Riding with their fellow Dutchman Bauke Mollema and the Ecuadorian Diego Camargo, they soon joined the leading trio of Poels, Davide Formolo and Davide Villella in a seven-man break that was going to go the distance.
Once Bouwman took maximum points over the next two climbs to move into a near unassailable lead in the KOM standings, Jumbo-Visma were able to use their numerical advantage to whittle down the break and tire out their rivals.
‘Thankfully he stayed on his bike!’ – Dumoulin nearly crashes into team car on Giro
It wasn’t plain sailing: Dumoulin needed a bike change either side of nearly being run over by his own team car. But once on the correct climbing steed, the 2017 Giro champion put in a big surge on the final climb of Le Sellata – one that, while ruffling the feathers of Mollema and Formolo, also seemed to break Bouwman.
But the 28-year-old kept his cool and returned to the fold despite a succession of attacks from the riders bend on breaking up the Jumbo-Visma monopoly. When Bouwman took yet more KOM points over the summit, he didn’t content himself with the blue jersey and kept pushing for the win.
Twice Dumoulin was dropped on the undulating run towards the final intermediate sprint at Potenza inside the last 10km. On both occasions he had no right to return. Yet he did – somehow finding the strength to claw his way back. And when he joined the leaders for the last time, he was able to use his raw power on the flat to drag Bouwman to the foot of the final ramp before launching him like a slingshot towards certain glory.
‘It wasn’t even in my plan!’ – Dumoulin after setting up Bouwman for maiden Grand Tour win
“I’m so happy for Koen – he’s one of the riders who deserves it most in the whole bunch,” Dumoulin later said. “I knew he was going to be the fastest but to get him to the line and to be able to sprint for the win – that was our first objective and we succeeded, so I’m very happy.”
Dumoulin also admitted that he had no intention to get in the day's break - and only did so to help Bouwman's chances when he saw some quality riders dart clear in pursuit of his teammate from the pack. In that way, Dumoulin essentially admitted that he was motivated by playing a support role from the outset - which made the result even more satisfying.
This result won’t appear in Dumoulin’s palmares or on his list of career wins. But it was arguably a better performance than any of those 22 victories. Sure, 17 of those were against the clock. But the tenacity Dumoulin showed on Friday – and the context of such a brave and commanding performance – even outdoes his victory in pink at Orapa when he pulled back Nairo Quintana’s dangerous attack before strengthening his grip on the maglia rosa in 2017.
Not that he would ever admit that. Dumoulin is a winner who has found these recent years - when his legs have not produced the goods - a big a challenge as anything he's faced in life. He would have revelled in guiding his apprentice to victory. But you sense that Dumoulin won't be able to turn this difficult page of his career until he's raising his hands to celebrate his victory - and not that of a team-mate.
Still, Bouwman is now up to 16th on GC and within 40 seconds of race favourite Simon Yates, while Dumoulin finds himself only four minutes down on the Briton.
Together, the Dutch duo have turned around Jumbo-Visma’s Giro and given it a solid platform on which more success could follow. And while another bad day like that on Mount Etna may follow, Dumoulin’s fourth place in Potenza has shown that he’s capable of taking the win he covets in this Giro. And perhaps he'll get a helping hand from Bouwman to do just that over the next fortnight.