Off, on, off, on and then finally off. Such has been Steven Kruijswijk’s rollercoaster relationship with the podium in the 2018 Vuelta a España, where the LottoNL-Jumbo racer came agonisingly close to taking his first top three in a Grand Tour.
Ninth in the 2017 Vuelta a España, following his great Tour de France and fifth place in Paris, Kruijswijk’s result is the best of any rider doing the Tour and Vuelta this year, and in terms of his country’s performances in the Vuelta, it equals Wilco Kelderman’s fourth last year.
But just as Kelderman fell at the final post last year when Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) pushed him down a spot on GC with a stunning performance on the Angliru, so Kruijswijk was pushed off the podium on the last all-out racing day of the 2018 Vuelta.
After a strong performance on the first day in the Pyrenees, on the Coll de la Gallina, Kruijswijk dropped Valverde, the rider ahead of him on the provisional podium as the Spaniard cracked at the foot of the climb.
But his gutsy lone pursuit of Enric Mas (Quick Step Floors) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) proved frustrating. It was enough to ensure he finished fourth on GC, ahead of a flailing Valverde, but did not suffice, with a 52 seconds deficit on Mas and Lopez, to stop him from losing his podium spot.
Speaking a few metres above the steeply rising summit finish at Col de la Gallina, whilst largely ignored by the Spanish and Colombian media, who were foraging after Mas, Valverde and Lopez et al - sitting astride his top tube, Kruijswijk told a large knot of Dutch TV and newspaper reporters that “of course it’s a big disappointment.”
“I had felt a lot of confidence that I could keep this [third place], but at the end I lacked a little bit of power to close the gap on the final climb.”
“Obviously the other guys were a little bit better, so I’m coming home in fourth.”
Kruijswijk’s GC position has yo-yoed radically during this year’s Vuelta. 28th in the opening time trial, he soared to ninth after LottoNL-Jumbo had laid down the law on the first major summit finish in Alfacar on stage 4. Then on Los Praeres, where Simon Yates regained the overall lead, he moved up to fifth.
Having held onto fifth at Covadonga, he moved into third in the Torrelavega time trial, lost two spots and was back to fifth 24 hours later in Balcon de Bizkaia, regained third place on La Rabassa, and finally ended up in fourth after Saturday's stage to La Gallina.
It’s been a real GC roller coaster, then, but when asked if he could have done anything to improve on his all-round performance in the Vuelta, Kruijswijk said “No, I don’t think so. First of all there was a bit of a question what I could do after the Tour, of course, and then in the Vuelta I started getting better and better and getting some good results on GC. And it still is [a good result], but when you come so close to the podium, it’s a disappointment, at first.”
The Dutchman said that Lopez, in particular, and Astana, as a team, had impressed him a lot on the last climbing stage of the race. “And in the end I tried to close the gap but I wasn’t able to that, and that’s fair enough, that’s sport.”
“I knew that Valverde maybe wasn’t the guy to watch today, but the other guys were. And they passed me, so that was that.”