Tom Dumoulin is tired. Unhappy. He’s done. He’s outta here. One minute giving enthused spiel to the Cycling Podcast about new season objectives, and the next he’s on unpaid leave, taking a career break to figure out, in his words: “What do I want? Do I still want to be a rider? And how?”
And it’s easy to wonder why on earth a pro athlete in the prime of his career might choose to hang up his cleats. But, as the old saying goes: “Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, and then, having clickety-clacked down the road for twenty minutes in cycling shoes maybe consider riding that mile next time, eh pal?!”
Sure, it looks all glamour on the telly, but have you read “Domestique” by Charley Wegelius? It’s a classic of the ‘suffer porn’ genre. His portrait of life as a pro contains no glamour and leaves you in little doubt that this is a brutal, painful, extreme profession.
Standard quote: “In a very simple way the amount of pain that a professional cyclist goes through, even on a normal day, far exceeds what most people would experience in their entire lives.”
And it’s dangerous. Riders get seriously injured doing this. Sometimes they die. It’s just not a normal job. The worst that could happen to most of us during a day’s work these days is to suffer serious abrasions to our feelings after getting called out for saying something daft in a Zoom meeting. These guys are risking their actual lives.
And what about all the stuff around the actual racing? The endless hotels, for example? For those of us with a home life that doesn’t include a luxurious buffet for every meal, who live in houses without expansive atriums and beautifully appointed spa areas, and where there is a distinct lack of staff pottering around ready to cater to our every whim, life on the road looks pretty appealing.Embed from Getty Images
I imagine, however, after two hundred and fifty of your annual three hundred nights away from home it’s worn thin. You’d probably swap it all for an evening on the settee with the family eating crisps.
And that’s to say nothing of sharing a room with some other sweaty bloke on the say-so of a team staff member with a clipboard and a roster of cyclists to squeeze into a hotel. Whether you like it or not you’ll soon be putting up with the noxious personal habits of a human with whom you’ve become accidentally more familiar than your chosen life partner.
Still not convinced that the pros have got it tough?
Let’s rewind to last year’s Tour de France. You slog from Nice, via the Pyrenees, to the Alps, to deliver your precious team leader, Primoz Roglic, delicately by hand to the base of La Planche des Belles Filles and the brink of glory. Only to watch him suffer a public breakdown and concede the whole shebang to a fellow cyclist (Tadej Pogacar) who is barely out of school.
So, Tom, that’s three weeks of your life you’re never getting back, mate.
Yes. For all these reasons and more, while life as a pro is undoubtedly awesome if you’re up for it, if you’re heart’s no longer in it, and your head’s at home with the family, and you’re lucky enough to be able to take a career break, then you take it.
Dumoulin will be missed, but it’s his life not ours.
Seems like he’s ready to live it.
(Top Image: filip bossuyt from Kortrijk, Belgium, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)