Last month marked the 100th Edition of the Giro d'Italia, road cycling’s first UCI grand tour of the year. The punishing Italian race favors the likes of Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali–some of the pro-peloton's most accomplished climbing specialists. Out of twenty one stages, nearly half of them were set to start uphill wars between the climbers in the General Classification.
During Stage 4, however, a familiar but unexpected face started to take shape in the Italian countryside. Five stages later on Mount Etna, he moved his way up to third overall in GC, finishing just 24 seconds behind Quintana on a climb whose last 4km sit at over 8%. And, by the end of Stage 10, an impressive ITT shook the rose-tinted realities of the Giro's climbers.
Tom Dumoulin, rider for Team Sunweb and Dutch National Time Trial Champion, started week two of the Giro d’Italia wearing the Maglia Rosa. He raced the next five stages cradling a two-minute overall lead in one hand while clutching the collective balls of the GC climbers in the other hand. He even sent a back-handed sprint slap into the faces of his all-round competitors during a Stage 14 win. Italy became Tom Dumoulin’s new stomping ground. That is, until nature struck.
Emergency bowel movements suck, and emergency bowel movements suck even more when you’re in the middle of racing the Queen Stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia that you’re set to win. (You all can relate to that feeling, right?) Tom and the entire spectating world seemed to be in a frantic as he threw off his pink jersey and helmet and dove into the roadside ditch. Almost one minute later he emerged back on the tarmac, vulnerable and dirty-handed, and chased hard. Two minutes lead became one minute, and one minute painfully became thirty-one seconds.
Half of a minute is not much of a buffer when you’re a butterfly racing against condors and sharks. Three stages later, Tom inevitably lost the Maglia Rosa to the Giro’s original fan-favorite, Quintana. One last mountain stage pushed him even farther back into fourth place behind Frenchman Thibaut Pinot and Italian Vincenzo Nibali, nearly one minute away from ever seeing the pink jersey again during the 100th Giro.
The one thing that Tom Dumoulin didn’t do during this entire turn of events was give up. After his Stage 16 episode, he rode as hard as he would have if he was still safe in the pink. Over the final four stages, fierce uphill battles ensued between the climbers but Tom remained as calm and in contact as any rider whose insides inverted on live television would.
Luckily for Tom, the last day of the Giro gave him the chance to pour the last reserves of his strength and will to win back the Maglia Rosa into his specialty. The final individual time trial shut out the distraction of race attacks and crashes and jests at the new internet meme that he'd become. What mattered to Tom during those 33 minutes was maintaining the mental strength to keep up his power.
Now, I’m not saying we should all take a dump on the side of the road during a high-profile televised sporting event, but there’s surely something to be said about how Tom took his obstacles in stride and still came out as the winner against the heavily betted-on favorites. He focused on what he did best and paced himself back into pink with humility, honesty, and determination.
The common saying in the face of adversity is, "Shit happens", but I think people forget that if you deal with it quickly and just keep pedaling, you’ll still have the fortitude and capability to beat the odds.
Congratulations on the win, Tom. You’re a hero to all of us.