Prior to the three weeks of racing in the 2015 Vuelta a Espana, the main focus of attention was devoted to the expected challenges from Tour de France winner and runner-up Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana plus 2014 Tour victor Vincenzo Nibali and several other leading contenders. As the event unfolded, injury, illness and disqualification affected the pre-race favourites but Fabio Aru and Joacquim Rodriguez led the general classification at the beginning of the final week and both riders were suited to the mountain terrain prevalent in much of this year’s renewal of the race. Yet Tom Dumoulin is one name previously unconsidered as a potential title winner but he could still claim victory in Madrid on Sunday.
Dutchman Dumoulin is only 24 years old with a speciality in the time-trials but has performed with distinction in the two previous renewals of the Tour de Suisse before abandoning this year’s Tour de France after being involved in a crash on stage three. He arrived for Spanish race in a relatively fresh condition compared to the pre-race favourites but his display to date has surprised a few people especially in the mountains.
Dumoulin really declared his presence in the Vuelta by winning Stage 9 of the race at the summit finish of Cumbre du Sol near to the town of Benitachell when overtaking Chris Froome on the steep gradients close to the finishing line. Thereafter, Dumoulin finished ninth on the difficult eleventh stage in Andorra but more importantly was just three minutes adrift of the winner of the day Mikel Landa who finished the stage nearly 90 seconds ahead of his Astana team-mate Aru.
It was anticipated that three further days of steep summit finishes over the weekend would finally end the challenge of Dumoulin but he has proved his versatility by staying with the true mountain men until the closing kilometre and thus limiting his time losses to just a few seconds.
Following the rest day on Tuesday, Dumoulin started favourite to win the 38 kilometre time-trial around Burgos on Wednesday but such was his dominant performance that he claimed victory by more than a minute from his nearest challenger on the day and assumed the race leadership on general classification.
Three further difficult days await the riders, with a particularly mountainous stage scheduled for Saturday, before the remaining peleton arrives in the streets of Madrid on Sunday. Yet Dumoulin now leads the Vuelta by just three seconds from Aru with Spaniard and local favourite Rodriguez occupying third position at a minute and a quarter behind the Dutchman.
Both Aru and Rodriguez have confirmed that they will sustain their challenge for the title until the very end of the race but whatever happens to Dumoulin in the current Vuelta, he has announced his arrival as a genuine Grand Tour rider and a challenge for the 2016 Tour de France title could be a possibility.