When the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, the sport’s two biggest Grand Tours, release their respective routes for the following season, there is always chatter about which race each favorite will choose to target. Chris Froome’s failed attempt at the Giro/Tour double in 2018 has likely put serious attempts to bag both to rest for the near future. This means each major favorite will be forced to choose a Grand Tour to target. While we know that Froome, the defending Giro champion, will mostly skip his title defense in an attempt to join the five Tour club, and Geraint Thomas, the defending Tour champion, will most certainly show up to the Tour to defend his 2018 title. While the path looks set for the two Sky stars, the 2017 Giro champion and rising star Tom Dumoulin is faced with an incredibly difficult decision in the 2019 season. Does the time trial crushing Dutchman head to a climb-heavy, TT-light Tour de France, or play it safe at the more suitable, but less prestigious Giro d’Italia?
The Dutch contender won his first and only Grand Tour to date when he took the 2017 Giro d’Italia title and has been tipped as a ‘star of the future’ since. But at 28, Dumoulin is rapidly entering his prime and needs to start winning Grand Tours on a semi-regular basis if he wants to be considered a true star. His runner-up placings at the 2018 Giro and Tour was a truly impressive feat, but the fact remains that Dumoulin needs to start winning on the sport’s biggest stage sooner rather than later. Another Giro title would certainly be a worthy feat, but if Dumoulin wants to ascend to the level of Froome, Nibali, and Thomas, he needs to Tour de France win.
Putting his Giro ambitions aside to go all in for a Tour de France title would the standard move for an ascendent Grand Tour star. However, Dumoulin, who thrives in time trials, must be concerned by the recently released Tour route that features a mere 27km of individual time trials.
This is the second fewest amount of TT kilometers in any recent edition, behind only the paltry 15km in 2015. The lack of TTs is compounded by a course so laden with climbing that Tour director Christian Prudhomme has deemed it the ‘highest’ route of all time. If Geraint Thomas shows up in 2019 with the climbing form he sported in 2018, he would be close to unbeatable on the five mountaintop finishes.
In contrast to the Tour’s route, the 2019 Giro d’Italia route features a whopping three individual time trials that add up to a total of 56 kilometers. On the surface, this is a route designed to easily serve Dumoulin up his second Giro title, but if we dig a little deeper, a few cracks in this theory appear. The opening 8km time trial on stage one features the steep 1.8km climb to the San Luca basilica in Bologna (in recent years, the 10.8% average climb has been used as the finish for the Giro dell’Emilia race).
The 34.7km TT on stage 9 features close 3,000 feet of climbing, with the entire second half of the course climbing at a 5-7% grade to the microstate of San Marino.
Even the ‘flat’ final 15.6km TT on the final stage in Verona features a 4km-long climb right in the middle of the course that features close to 700 feet of vertical gain.
These climb-heavy TTs are paired with an extremely mountainous final half of the race. Stage 20 features four brutal climbs deep in the Dolomites and will ensure the eventual winner of the race is a legitimate climber.
While Dumoulin isn’t thought of the climber on par with Chris Froome, Simon Yates, Vincenzo Nibali or even Geraint Thomas, the results speak otherwise. The chiseled Dutchman was present in the lead group at every mountain top finish in the 2018 Tour, and showed up to the World Championships looking leaner than ever. The new physique likely cost him some raw power, which was evident when he surrender his World TT title to Rohan Dennis, but saw him hang with the absurdly steep climb specialist on the final Höttinger Höll climb. The 3.2km climb had an average gradient of 11.5%, and even hit grades up to 28% in sections. If Dumoulin, who traditionally just looked to hang with the best on the long climbs in the Grand Tours, was able to stay within seconds of the lightest and punchiest climbers in the world at the end of a long, brutal race, then it seems likely to expect him to be able to stay with the lead group on any climb the Tour and Giro can serve up.
Dumoulin’s 2018 season, in which he finished 2nd in both the Giro and Tour, in addition to a 4th place at the World Road Race Championships, was a spectacular feat of endurance and versatility but saw him fail to get a single mass-start victory. This means that he needs a statement win more than ever if he wants to continue to advance his star power. He most certainly would prefer that win to come at the Tour de France, but the lack of any significant time trial kilometers means he would need to take time on the mountains, versus simply limit his losses as he’s done in the past. With its lumpy TTs and mountainous last half, the Giro d’Italia presents challenges, but surely represents his best chance to get his bank his second Grand Tour victory.
If Dumoulin wants to play it safe and pad his palmares with a second Grand Tour title, he should focus solely on the Giro. But if he feels like rolling the dice and face steep odds in exchange for a massive payoff in the unlikely event of success, he should go all in for a highly unfriendly Tour route. If he goes in with the ultra-slim physique he had at World’s, he could upset the pure climbers on the supposedly shorter, punchier climbs spread throughout the Tour.