The internet just exploded because Tom Dumoulin, a grand tour contender for Lotto Jumbo Visma, said he was stepping away from the sport for an indefinite period to figure things out.
Everyone has their hot take, and instead of staying out of other people’s business, I’m jumping right into this one because if you make it to the conclusion, my take on Dumoulin will change how you think about training.
Predictably, the worst takes on social media were all people who thought Dumoulin’s decision to step away was selfish because he took his position as a professional cyclist for granted. He enjoys a profession many covet, but almost no one can attain.
I see their point, but on behalf of Dumoulin, they can pound sand. You can’t understand why Dumoulin decided to step away without understanding what it’s like being a grand tour contender.
Here’s the recipe for a Grand Tour Contender:
OK, that’s many steps, but let’s take a sampling of some revealing quotes Tom has said over the years.
In the first quote, Tom describes going on Holiday with his wife and a group of friends on a ski vacation:
Think about that. You’re on vacation with friends, trying to have a good time, maybe sharing a meal, but you can’t even eat the same meal because it has cheese. Cheese has a lot of fat, which is calorie-dense. Eat too many calories, and you gain weight. If you weigh too much as a Grand Tour contender, it’s over.
I don’t know about you, but that quote makes me sad. Tom can’t let go, even on vacation, because he knows the difference between winning and losing depends on every bite that goes into his mouth.
He makes this plain in another interview
Tom isn’t the only cyclist that’s made this decision recently. Marcel Kittel, a renown German sprint, quit the sport of cycling in the past few years and dropped a few amazing interviews to counter the disbelief of the cycling world.
Do you detect a theme? Here it is: professional cycling demands a tradeoff between quality of life and performance. For your career to last, a rider has to tolerate a low quality of life for an interminable period of time to achieve results. If you’re struggling to see this, I made a handy visual for you.
Not every rider feels this way. A notable exception is Peter Sagan.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t count because he’s a historical talent. Historical talents inhabit a different plane. While their antics and routine make headlines, their example fails as a model because it’s inimitable.
Further, while absurdly successful, his performance in recent years proves my point. Sagan’s performance in recent years has noticeably dropped, and it’s not just because of age. He’s openly mentioned in interviews that he stresses novelty in his training to preserve his passion for riding even if it comes at the expense of performance.
Sagan doesn’t hold back, and while searching through my quote vault for relevant material, I found this statement about grand tour riders:
Sagan nails it. If you want to be a grand tour rider, you’re going to have a terrible life because the mindset that lifts you to the heights of performance prevents you from letting go.
Maybe these anecdotes haven’t made it clear, and you still think constant pressure and watching every bite is a small price to pay for the chance at winning a grand tour. If you still feel that way, try this:
You wouldn’t last for a month.
Do you know why Dumoulin quit? One night he walked past the trophy in his house commemorating his 2017 Giro De Italia win, paused, and thought, “Winning a grand tour is nice, but I just want to eat some cheese.”
You know what, Tom? Fair enough.
This brings me to you. People approach me all the time, asking for the right training plan to get as fast as possible. I can’t say this because no one would hire me, but I reflexively think:
You really, really don’t want to get as fast as possible. I mean, you think you do, because when you say ‘I want to get as fast as possible,’ you also imagine being that fast without spending every moment excruciatingly fighting to limit or deny all the things that might slow you down that 0.0001%.
“So are you saying don’t try to be fast and eat cheese like Tom?”
No. Hell, I say ‘Fast is fun” on Gravel God Cycling’s first page! The point is everything in life has tradeoffs, and being fast on a bike is no exception.
Don’t dream of being as fast as possible—dream of being as fast as you can be while having fun. Don’t let a bike, something invented to give you freedom, turn into something that limits your happiness.