MAASTRICHT. He was breathtakingly close to winning the Tour of Spain. And if the 24-year-old Maastricht native had managed it, it wouldn’t have mattered whether Maastricht University was able to flaunt its own student-cum-champion cyclist.
But it wasn’t to be. After several sweltering days on top Tom Dumoulin lost his lead in the final stage, eventually coming in sixth. And in any event: he’s no longer a UM student. Not by choice, though. As he told Observant last spring, he would have liked to continue his studies in Health Sciences. He started at UM in 2009, after graduating from the science profile at the local Bonnefanten College. The gymnasium stream, mind you. “It’s just grammar school with Latin”, he says modestly.
Dumoulin was already a keen cyclist at school, although he was less interested in turning pro than in becoming a doctor. Having missed out on a place at medical school, he chose Health Sciences instead. And with his cycling star continuing to rise, he figured he could combine the two. “Sometimes I get jealous of Epke Zonderland”, he said last year of the Dutch gymnast and Olympic gold medallist. “He’s studying medicine and at the same time has become an icon at the University of Groningen. (…) So it is possible. My ideal scenario – and I’d get back on board with it right now if I could – is to study at your own pace, maybe spend six or seven years on your bachelor’s degree.”
Only, Groningen is not Maastricht. Here a lot of value is placed on Problem-Based Learning, on participating in the ‘seven steps’, on actually being present in tutorials. There are special arrangements for athletes, but they still need to be present 50 per cent of the time – a tall order for a professional cyclist. “The scheme isn’t really suitable for genuine pros”, said study adviser Maarten van Kooij last year. “It’s more for the better recreational athletes.”
The head of UM Sport, Birgit Hendrickx, voiced her support for Dumoulin. “Of course we’d love to be able to flaunt big names like that. After all, an attractive policy for competitive athletes is a good selling point. But for that the scheme would have to be made more flexible, and that’s up to the faculties and the examination boards, not us. The faculties lead the way, we follow.”
After two years of trying, he wasn’t able to complete the first year. And so Dumoulin, the near-winner of the Vuelta, is unquestionably a big name – but not one UM will have the pleasure of flaunting.