Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) was in Italy recently to study the route of stage 15 of the Giro d’Italia to Bergamo, which will also form part of the Felice Gimondi Granfondo on May 7. He was guided and encouraged by Gimondi from a Bianchi team car, with the three-time Giro winner forgoing his Italian loyalties and tipping Kruijswijk to win the 100th edition of the race.
Kruijswijk finished fourth in the 2016 Giro d’Italia. He lead the race for five days only to crash on the descent of the Colle dell’Agnello on stage 19. He bravely fought to limit his losses but could not stop Esteban Chaves and then Vincenzo Nibali from taking the maglia rosa.
Despite his disappointment, Kruijswijk has confirmed he will back to target the Giro d’Italia in 2017. He opted to stay with LottoNL-Jumbo, and the Dutch team, despite a limited budget, has worked to strengthen the squad for the Giro d’Italia. Jurgen van den Broeck and Stef Clements have been hired, and LottoNL-Jumbo is focusing on the Giro d’Italia far more than the Tour de France.
"Winning in Bergamo would be cool, and great for Bianchi too. But the main goal for me in 2017 is the whole Giro d’Italia and the most important stage for me is the last one, to take the pink jersey to the finish in Milan and so back to Holland and of course back to Bianchi," Kruijswijk said after his ride in the Bergamo hills, knowing the Bianchi headquarters are only a few kilometres away in Treviglio, east of Milan.
"I hope I can do better than in 2016. It was great to wear the maglia rosa for five days. I was hugely disappointed after being so close to winning, but I want to comeback and win it this year."
Kruijswijk moved to Monaco during the winter and admits he often rides from France into Italy to train on the climbs and enjoy an Italian coffee. He is also familiar with the Bergamo region and combined his visit to Bergamo with a day of Giro d’Italia reconnaissance.
"I know Bergamo from racing Il Lombardia, so I know the area," he said. "It’s important to the roads on key stages of the Giro d’Italia and I rode the Selvino and the finale into Bergamo Alto, the old part of the city on the hill. It’s good to know what climbs to expect in the Giro and see the route of the Gran Fondo. I just hope it’s a little bit warmer for me in the Giro and for the Gran Fondo riders on May 7.
"I like to visit Italy and get a taste of the passion for cycling here. I visited Bianchi after the Giro d’Italia and while it’s a big company, it’s also a family and everyone was friendly and supportive. It’s important to have people who listen to us and take on board our feedback. Races are decided by just seconds, and so I need the best material and I need to know that the best people are working for me. I know that with Bianchi my bikes will be good when I turn up at races. Last year Bianchi made a special bike for me for the mountain time trial, and doing that gave me extra motivation. That’s how you get the best results."
All for the Giro at LottoNL-Jumbo
LottoNL-Jumbo lost Moreno Hofland, Wilco Kelderman and Sep Vanmarcke but has signed Lars Boom, Juan Jose Lobato, Clement and van den Broeck. Kruijswijk had a lot of offers after his strong performance in the Giro d’Italia but opted to stay with the team that has backed him for all of his career.
"Staying was the best option for me because I know everybody on the team," he said.
"Last year we went close to winning the Giro. Now with some extra effort and some new guys in the team, we can go even closer this year. I know I can rely on the coaches and riders. At a new team you perhaps need a one-year transition. I’m already 30 and I think I’m close to my best, so its time to get some big results.
"Last year we had a sprinter for the early flat stages, but in 2017 we’re going to focus entirely on the GC and we’ve also looked for new teammates because I was a little bit on my own too soon on key stages, especially when I had the jersey. The other guys like Nibali and Valverde knew they could attack me and cause me problem. That won’t happen this year. Stef Clement and Jurgen van de Broeck can stay with me and support me in a select group of say 20 riders. We all know the Giro is the goal and so everyone is working to be at their best in May."
Gimondi cheers for Kruijswijk rather than Nibali
Gimondi was impressed with Kruijswijk as he followed him from a Bianchi car and perhaps made some enemies in Italy by hoping that he bats Nibali in this year’s 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia. Of course Gimondi is a loyal Bianchi user, just as he was for much of his own career.
"If it wasn’t for that crash and things had gone logically, he would have won the Giro," he said.
"In the previous five mountain stages he’d always finished ahead of Nibali, not only in a sprint but ahead of him. He gained two minutes on Nibali in the mountain time trial. He was on track to win the Giro.
"He was unlucky to crash on the descent. He should have perhaps waited for other riders after the descent. He would have been better off saving his big effort for the final climb, but it’s easy for us to say that now.
"I wish him all the best and hope he wins the Giro d’Italia. It was nice to see him close up on the bike. He looks good on the bike; you can see he’s a talented rider. I won the 50th edition of the Giro d’Italia and so I really hope he can win the 100th edition."