Time is now felt by Tom Dumoulin in its most Kantian version. According to Kant, time is not a property of external events, instead, it’s an internal perspective by which we make sense of our existence.
This is where the Dutch rider finds himself after announcing his sudden and temporary retirement from professional cycling a few months ago. He is lost in a corner of time, searching for his happiness and balance again.
In the 2015 Vuelta a España, I had an experience which can almost be seen as a visual metaphor for Dumoulin’s retirement. After the penultimate stage of the race which finished in Cercedilla, Dumoulin lost the final victory to Fabio Aru. Those 3 minutes and 40 seconds that separated him from the Italian at the finish allowed us, as journalists, to position ourselves to descend on him as soon as he stepped off the bike. There was no escape.
When he arrived, his face showed how overwhelmed he was, being surrounded by a cloud of microphones and cameras. Suffocated by the effort and the pressure, he asked his soigneur where the team car was, probably looking for shelter for a few minutes to digest what had just happened.
It was, after all, the first time he had ever been in the position to win. To his chagrin, when he reached the car it was locked. He turned towards us and knew he was cornered. Despite being a journalist, I felt uncomfortable invading such an intimate part of a person's life at such a complicated moment. He sighed and said: "go ahead". That's how I imagine him in this last year and a half — lost in that corner, searching for his identity, that lost passion, and the meaning of so much renunciation and effort.
Dumoulin is a polite, intelligent and easy-going cyclist, he’s always available for the press, no matter how high his heart rate or adrenaline is. I like his honesty and the fact that he never hides behind excuses. "I didn't have the strength", "I made a rookie mistake", "others were better than me", have been some of his statements to my microphone during the Grand Tours. He hasn't surrounded himself with excuses this time either.
On the subject of Dumoulin, I would like to explain the name of my column in Volata Magazine this month, "La Esquina del Tiempo'' (The Corner of Time). This has nothing to do with all those hackneyed cycling concepts, but I choose it because of the presence of time in it. Time, after all, which, whether in its physical, mechanical, or philosophical definition, is the piece around which success or defeat in cycling competition revolves.
I will not lie — the title is plagiarised. But, let me call it tribute, because it allows me to refer to my late father's work. It is the title given by my father, Manuel María Meseguer, to the blog he created to develop to his critical eye after a lifetime devoted to frontline journalism. He found himself retired early, at the age of fifty-seven, a victim of the cruel system that punishes our elders with early ostracism. A thoroughbred journalist like him did not know how to cope with such an unexpected turn of events and he exhausted himself, even from writing, in 2018.
When you read these lines, more than a year will have passed since I arrived at Atocha train station in Madrid, on the way back from the Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana, and learned that my father had just passed away.
Ironically, I remember my reaction when, many years ago, my father told me that he did not get to say goodbye to his father when he died because my father had to deliver an article that could not wait.
I looked at him wide-eyed. Although I knew how vocational his profession was, and his unwavering commitment to his work, I never understood it, until, in a way, he instilled it in me. When he became ill in 2019 and was in critical condition for almost two months in hospital, I had to travel to Bilbao, Valencia, and South Africa to work with a heavy heart. He didn't give me much choice: "you have to go".
I know that my father was sad for many years because he did not know how to find his place once he retired. He was unable to find a new canvas on which to express his love for his profession. The passion for his vocation was so deep-rooted that it is hard to understand why it was lost from his daily routine – cast into the past, and lost in time.
In a conversation I had during my YouTube series "Entre Amigos" with Rigoberto Urán and Óscar Pereiro, the Colombian asked Pereiro if he remembered enjoying himself during his sporting career. The Spaniard shook his head. Urán then confessed that he was on the verge of quitting cycling at the end of 2019 after a serious injury and because he hadn't enjoyed what he was doing for some time.
To his good fortune – and that of cycling lovers – he has managed to regain his love for cycling. Closely related to this lost happiness, in another conversation during lockdown with Australian sprinter Michael Matthews, I was surprised that, pandemic and tragedy aside, he called the break "a gift from God" to "free me from doing things at 110%" and "see in perspective what I really want in my life both in cycling and outside of it".
After years of doing the same thing, stuck in the routine of being a cyclist, he recognized that he was happier now and able to appreciate cycling again. It reminds me of Marcel Kittel, the talented German sprinter who ended up leaving cycling in 2019 at the age of twenty-nine. Unable to find a balance between his successful professional and personal career, he admitted, "It's the hardest sport there is. You're tired all the time and it takes a huge toll not only on your body, but also on your mind".
Think of so many others who followed the same path and publicly acknowledged it, such as the Brit, Peter Kennaugh, the Dutchman Lieuwe Vestra or the Spaniard Iván Gutiérrez. Then there are those who are probably going through a difficult period, living it in silence, such as the Italian Fabio Aru, who, at barely thirty, has been heading towards retirement without being able to return to being even a trace of the champion he once was.
When it seemed that nobody wanted him anymore, in 2021 he signed for Team Qhubeka Assos and in the pre-season he returned to cyclo-cross, surely looking for his beginnings, that forgotten happiness over the years.
I understand this return as the corner of time that my father mentioned in his blog. "Sometimes we have the perception of being lost in a corner of time. Mine is in that white pillar of a neglected garden pierced by the evening sunbeam"; surely the place where he managed to find serenity. Let's hope that this ray of sunshine also illuminates Tom Dumoulin in a corner full of hope. Whether or not it brings him back to cycling, let’s hope it brings him happiness again.