Since No One Asked – Why did Dumoulin retire? He just wants to eat some cheese.

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:

Pick the right parents, especially your mom (she's the one that passes on her mitochondrion, which creates all the ATP required for aerobic respiration).
Step 1
Go ahead and thank your parents again. Pray that your body grows into a slight frame, not one laden with something useful, like muscle. Bonus points if you're gifted with a robust immune system that somehow resists sickness after years of training yourself to ashes.
Step 2
Hopefully, you start cycling relatively early and get into a developmental pipeline that identifies and nurtures talent. If not, good luck.
Step 3
Decide that you are going to ruthlessly prioritize cycling to the detriment of everything else in your life. No exceptions.
Step 4
Develop an indomitable work ethic. Nobody trains better than you. No one sleeps harder than you. No one eats less than you.
Step 5
Barring historic levels of talent, become obsessed with details, marginal gains, and especially your weight. Lose your grip on reality, and slip into superstition.
Step 6
Despite your prodigious natural gift and peerless work ethic, somehow develop a spirit undaunted by the merciless claws of fate, which will cruelly derail your dreams because of a single mistake over three weeks.
Step 7
Maybe most of all, you must possess unimpeachable faith in yourself and the ability to compartmentalize. You are the gatekeeper of your world, and you're always on the watch for ANYTHING - the media, the weather, friends, etc. - that might rob you of that final 0.1% that might make all the difference between a win and tenth.
Step 8
Previous
Next

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:

"We went skiing for a couple of days with a big group of friends. Then, I really see how she looks out for me. During the cooking, a big hunk of cheese goes into the risotto. That's how it's supposed to be, but not for me."

Tom Dumoulin

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

"I live a much more extreme life than I did five years ago, and it's not necessarily any nicer. I find satisfaction in getting the maximum out of myself and think a training ride around the Gavia and Mortirolo is beautiful, but I'm getting closer and closer to the limit in terms of training and nutrition."

Tom Dumoulin

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.

"The biggest question of the last few months was: Can I and do I want to continue to make the sacrifices needed to be a world-class athlete? And my answer is: No, I do not want that any more, because I have always found the limitations on a top athlete as an increasing loss of quality of life.

Marcel Kittel

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: 

“The guys who are always serious are always boring,” he added, making the champagne complaint. “They can f**k off. They're boring guys, they have a terrible life.”

Peter Sagan

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.

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