History will recall Alberto Contador’s comeback on the Mortirolo and Mikel Landa’s solo victory in Aprica, but Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) had to content himself with consolation prizes at the end of stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia.
Kruijswijk was honoured twice on the podium, receiving the blue jersey of king of the mountains and the “Montagna Pantani” award for being the first man to the top of the Mortirolo, but the stage win his efforts perhaps deserved escaped him.
The Dutchman forged clear with Contador and Landa seven kilometres from the top of the Mortirolo, and he performed most of the pace-making duties on the way up the climb. Contador provided more lasting help on the descent and the final haul to Aprica, while Landa, citing the forlorn chase of Astana teammate Fabio Aru – sat in the wheels, only to solo clear with a little over four kilometres remaining.
“I knew that it could happen,” Kruijswijk told Cyclingnews after descending from the podium. “I chose to go full to the finish with Alberto. Obviously Landa wasn’t going to work with us because of Aru in the back. But even if he had worked with us, I knew it would be hard to beat him. I think in the end, maybe I could have chosen another tactic. But I’m satisfied with what I got today.”
Indeed, in his own press conference, Contador said in normal circumstances, he would have granted stage victory to Kruijswijk, and it was clear that he made no attempt to follow when the Dutchman launched a tired attack shortly before Landa’s winning move.
If Kruijswijk was upset to miss out on the stage, he hid his disappointment well, preferring instead to focus on his ascent up the overall rankings. After a solid time trial at Valdobbiadene, he was a strong 5th at Madonna di Campiglio on Sunday, and he now lies 8th on general classification, 11:40 down on Contador.
“I didn’t expect that today, for sure,” he said. “But I’d had some good performances before the rest day in the time trial and in the uphill finish on Sunday so I knew this climb would suit me well. It’s a steep one. I did my best and said I’d see where I could be. I took advantage of the good form that I have.”
Kruijswijk confirmed that he had seen Contador stopped on the roadside to change a wheel on the descent that followed the race’s first passage through the finish line at Aprica. With Astana and Katusha forcing the pace in front, the Spaniard was forced to engage in a desperate pursuit, eventually pegging back a 52-second deficit on the lower slopes of the Mortirolo.
“I saw Saxo Bank stopping with Alberto so I think he had a flat tyre. They were waiting for him and chasing, and then he made the jump on the Mortirolo itself,” he said. “In the beginning, Astana were pulling pretty hard because Alberto was behind. But it was more that they were pulling really hard on the flat part because then on the climb it was just everyone for himself.”
Kruijswijk finished 8th overall at the 2011 Giro and he is on course to repeat or indeed better that result here. With mountaintop finishes at Cervinia and Sestriere to come, he is just over two minutes off 6th place and three minutes off 5th.
“I don’t know what my target is. I have to see day by day. There are still a few hard stages to come but I think I’m with the best climbers now. So I will see, I will try to move up as far as I can,” he said, adding that the king of the mountains title is also a goal. “If you can climb with the best, this comes out of it, so I’ll try to keep it.”
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