INTERVIEW: SAMUEL DUMOULIN
The Ag2r road captain, who is fighting back from a crash in August, talks about his long history in the sport
When he won stage one of the Tour du Haut Var back in February, Samuel Dumoulin punched the air, directed his bike around a lazy curve which started just after the finish line using just his hips, and shouted a primal yell.
“It was the rage I have to win,” he explained to Procycling at the press conference, which consisted of Dumoulin sitting on a plastic chair under a gazebo while a very small handful of journalists crouched at his feet.
He’s quite intense, Samuel Dumoulin. A compact, chippy Lyonnais with a heavy, brooding brow. In riding style, he’s punchy, though he’s a lot less scrappy off the bike – he saves the shouting for when he wins. He’s been a constant and visible presence in the peloton for years – he turned pro in 2002 and did a small lap of the French teams – two seasons with Jean Delatour, four with Ag2r, five with Cofidis and since then five, plus at least one more, back with Ag2r. He’s been happy in his teams – Jean Delatour was a ragtag outfit of experienced old hands and young riders, while he’s developed very close relationships with the Ag2r manager Vincent Lavenu, then with Eric Boyer at Cofidis, for whom he won a stage of the Tour de France in 2008. When Cofidis got rid of Boyer, Dumoulin turned back to Lavenu, with whom he’s developed into the Ag2r team’s captain. In matters of tactics and race knowledge, even the DSs occasionally defer to Dumoulin’s vast experience, looking to him for advice.
That Haut Var win was his first and last of 2017, which made it a below-average year in terms of results. Dumoulin has won a race every season since he turned pro in 2002 except 2007 and 2014. In 2016 he won the season-long Coupe de France for a record third time and in his most prolific years, 2010 and 2011, he won six races per year. 2017 has also been challenging for different reasons. At the Tour de l’Ain, on the third stage, Dumoulin fainted on the bike, passing out before he even hit the ground, and woke up in the ambulance. He was in and out of hospital quickly enough that he was able to tweet a picture of himself, face bruised, arriving back at the team hotel the same evening, but it was longer before he was back on his bike. He had to wait for further tests and the all-clear from neurologists before resuming training, by which time the season was over. Procycling talked to Dumoulin before his crash, but he assured us by email that he would be a professional cyclist in 2018. First he’d be taking a complete break from the bike. Then he’d embark on his 17th professional season.
OLD SCHOOL APPROACH
Dumoulin doesn’t usually take a winter break. Some riders won’t touch their bikes for weeks at the end of the season, but his habit is to ride straight through, albeit at a more relaxed pace than during the season. He does it to stay in shape, but he also does it because he enjoys riding his bike.
“I don’t overtrain. I always listen to my body,” he says. “The last few years, I haven’t taken a winter break. I ride straight through. The season finishes and I keep training in the nice October weather.
“It’s mainly for pleasure, but I like the physical effort. I need that, and I’ve noticed that when I start training properly again, it’s a lot easier. If you stop for six weeks, you start practically from zero and it takes a lot of energy to get it back.
“I’ve never been extreme. I’ve found equilibrium and I never get saturated, like some riders, who can’t even look at the
“The last few years, I haven’t taken a winter break. I ride straight through. The season inishes and I keep training in the nice October weather”
bike at the end of the season. It doesn’t weigh on me, this job. There’s a reason I’m still here – it’s a pleasure.”
Dumoulin’s training sounds quite old school. He says he looked at his time trial position for the first time at the start of 2017. That might seem surprising in this day and age, but as a one-day specialist, he’s never needed to do anything other than make the time cut. It’s not all a case of just getting the miles in, however. He has developed an extremely specialised weight-training routine.
“I’ve cultivated my power and I do weight training with a coach. I push weights and do work on my legs, backs and stomach. It’s given me a lot. I do squats with 140 kilograms, for power. I can press 240 kilograms with one leg,” Dumoulin says of his regime.
Along with his power, which goes a long way considering he is 5ft 3in and weighs in well under 60 kilograms, he’s also got a well-developed sense of racing and tactics. “I’m less a pure sprinter than the guys now who are super powerful,” he says. “Sprints have changed and are very organised. I’m more of an improviser. I adapt to what is going on and have to be clever and economical. I’ve still got a good top speed, but my best sprints are a little uphill, where my size comes into play. I don’t have the power for the flat finishes, so I’m better in more tactical races.”
Dumoulin signed for Jean Delatour in 2002, after riding as a stagiaire for Française des Jeux. FDJ manager Marc Madiot had not taken him on, and no other teams had made him an offer. The fit was good, however – Jean Delatour was based in the same region as Dumoulin, and the service course was 15km from where his parents lived.
“It was difficult to get used to the volume of racing,” he says. “I’d never done lots of endurance work so it took some time to adapt. I was good enough to ride the Tour in my second season and that in turn gave me more endurance. But I’ve never done two grand tours in a year. I prefer shorter races and one-day races – it’s where I’m best.”
Dumoulin joined Ag2r in 2004, but got off to a bad start. “I didn’t recover well from 2003, and it finished badly because I broke my arm at the Tour and my season stopped in July.
“Those years were difficult. 2005 was a little better; 2006 wasn’t too bad. 2007, I had a few crashes and bad luck and needed to turn the page. That’s why I signed with Cofidis, so I could relaunch my career.”
It was with Cofidis that Dumoulin achieved the high point of his career, a Tour de France stage win in 2008. “It was such a fabulous day,” he remembers. “I was in the escape for 208 kilometres, and we had a 15-minute lead at one point. It’s one of the last Tour stages where an escape has succeeded on a flat day.
“When it was clear we would stay away, after such a hard season the year before, I said to myself that the worst that was
“I speak a lot with the riders and management. The others listen to me and the managers ask my advice. I’ve got results so my role is credible”
going to happen was that I’d come fourth in a stage of the Tour.”
Dumoulin stayed with Cofidis for five years, then re-signed with Ag2r La Mondiale in 2013. At the time, the team was just pulling itself out of a long period of relatively mediocre results, and was starting to reap the benefits of investing in a U23 training facility in the Alps, through which a golden generation of young French riders was coming.
“I spoke with riders on the team, and they said it was going well. By 2014 we supported Jean-Christophe Péraud to the podium and won the teams classification of the Tour de France. That made us the best team in the Tour!” he says.
“And we’ve been on the podium three times in four years. Romain Bardet is very intelligent and determined and he learns fast. He’s a good technician and he knows how to handle himself. He’s a good descender and has huge physical ability. We can play for the victory,” he continues.
Dumoulin is the team captain at Ag2r. “I share the role a little with Christophe Riblon,” he says. “I speak a lot with the riders and management. The others listen to me and the team managers ask my advice. I’ve got results, so my role is credible – I’m not just experienced, I’ve shown I can still win races, too.”
In 16 professional seasons, Dumoulin has seen a lot change. “In the early years, against the doping and EPO, we had practically no chance of winning. We were strong, but not on the same level. I wouldn’t say it’s disappeared now, but it really has changed,” he says. “Teams have changed. There were 16 or 17 riders when I started. Now it’s almost 30, and we have doctors, physios, psychologists and nutritionists. When I started I didn’t know how to train – we’ve learned how to structure training plans, integrate them with all the measurement of power we have and use that to build form for a race.
“There used to be a huge difference between the strongest and least strong in the peloton. Now the gap is reduced, and there are a lot of good riders. A lot more riders can get over the climbs.”
But what has not changed is Dumoulin. “I’m a grafter,” he says. “I’m somebody who works, works, works. That’s the way I’ve always proceeded. I practice and practice, with lots of motivation, and thanks to that and my speed, I’ve found one chance or another to win.”
Dumoulin gets a cheer on stage one of the Tour du Haut Var. He went on to win
Delight for Dumoulin at he wins a Tour de France stage in 2008 from a break
Steven Kruijswijk was imperious in the Alpe de Siusi TT, but bad luck killed his race