After being caught out in the finale of stage 2 of the Critérium du Dauphiné on Monday, Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) made it through stage 3 relatively unscathed, finishing in the lead group in a stage won by Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Kruijswijk's teammate Wout Van Aert finished second in the bunch sprint, extending his lead in the young riders' jersey and a day after the Dutch-registered squad announced that the three-time cyclo-cross world champion will be making his Grand Tour debut at the Tour de France next month.
On paper, stage 3 looked like a straightforward day for the sprinters, but the unseasonably cold and wet weather added unwelcome complications for the entire peloton.
"For sure it was less stressful [than yesterday] but for me, it was a terrible day," Kruijswijk said to Cyclingnews while warming down after the stage. "I was already suffering in the cold and the rain. I think at one point I had seven layers of clothing over each other and I couldn't get my rain jacket on over them, so I had to stop and then chase back on. it was not a nice day for sure."
Kruijswijk finished stage 2 in a group featuring Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), among others, losing 31 seconds to GC rivals including former race winners Chris Froome (Team Ineos) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana). The Dutchman was unsure whether it will be possible to recoup the deficit before the end of the week, perhaps looking to the stage 4 time trial to claw back some time.
At 32, Kruijswijk is making his debut at the Critérium du Dauphiné, often racing the Tour de Suisse or the Giro d'Italia ahead of the Tour in July. Despite having lost time to his rivals, Kruijswijk remains focused on building towards the Tour and bettering last year’s fifth-place finish, and he's pleased with his current level of form.
"We will see [if I can get the time back I lost yesterday]. The other guys were obviously a bit better and it will be hard to take time back, but by the end of the week, if I can keep up with the guys in front, then I’m happy with where my level is now. I’m still focusing really on the Tour [de France] and where I will be there, and I think I’m heading that way.
"I was hoping today to have a bit of a recovery day but it didn’t really happen, but for sure, everyone suffered and it’s a nice TT [Wednesday], especially with the good test before the Tour. It seems to be similar to the one we’ll be getting in the Tour. I will give it my all so we will see."
Jumbo-Visma won three stages of last year’s Tour de France through sprinter Dylan Groenewegen and Primoz Roglic, who finished a place ahead of Kruijswijk in fourth on GC. Again heading to the Tour de France with one of the strongest teams in 2019, Jumbo-Visma have added a level of versatility through their decision to bring Wout Van Aert. It's a move Kruijswijk is clearly pleased with.
"Of course, I knew already a long time and I was training with him, so we've already discussed it at a training camp and with the team. It was the first time I actually met him at the training camp because I didn’t do any of the Classics, of course. We had a great camp and then he’s showed he’s really strong not only for the Classics, but I think he can be a great help for the team in the Tour.
"I think he's quite an all-rounder. You can see he's sprinting here [at the Dauphine], he can go up hills quite well and he has a good TT so that's a guy we need. Maybe there's also an opportunity for himself as well when it comes but for sure he can help me, [Dylan] Groenewegen and in the team time trial so I’m happy he's coming with us."
Van Aert continues to impress
After finishing second in the bunch sprint in Tuesday's stage, Van Aert not only extended his lead in the young riders' classification through the additional time bonuses, but he also moved into the sprinter's green jersey following his third-place finish on stage 1 of the race.
Speaking after the podium ceremony in Riom, Van Aert said: "I think maybe I waited too long to launch my sprint because I was already two bike lengths behind [Sam] Bennett, so the only option to beat him is to launch the sprint earlier than him but he's super strong. I came close to his slipstream so I was definitely faster.
"I think maybe 10 days ago now, our team director first asked it [whether I could go to the Tour] and what my thoughts were about it. Primoz Roglic would have normally been in the team, but he felt injured after the Giro and they wanted to change the selection because of that. I think it's a super nice opportunity to do the Tour de France, and to start in Belgium will definitely be special. I thought about it but didn't want to miss the chance."
Although the race hasn't yet hit the mountains, Van Aert continues to impress, and the two jerseys showcase the Belgian's versatility and ability at WorldTour stage races alongside the one-day Classics, where the cyclo-cross star has already made a name for himself.