You have to go back 15 years to find the last rider to win the Tour de Suisse who then went on and finish on the podium at the Tour de France in the same season. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) is experienced enough to know that peaking in June is not the same as making a mark a month later in the greatest race of all.
The Dutchman, now 31, is targeting the GC at the Tour de France for the first time in his career, and he's using Suisse as his final race tune-up before the Grand Depart in July.
There is still almost a month before the curtain is raised at the Tour, and Kruijswijk is looking to strike a balance between racing competitively over the next week and finding that extra few per cent for his main objective later in the summer.
On Saturday, the two-time Suisse podium finisher helped his team secure a modest 11th place in the opening team time trial in Frauenfeld, with BMC Racing taking the spoils and the first leader's jersey. Given that only one other LottoNL rider at Suisse will accompany Kruijswijk to the Tour, the result was nothing to panic over, but as the race moves towards the mountains, Kruijswijk will be looking to test his condition against some of his main Tour rivals.
"Team time trials are always hard, and it's always a challenge trying to keep everyone together. In the end, we lost a few guys but the times weren't too bad. I'm glad we've started the race after spending 16 days up in Sierra Nevada training," he told Cyclingnews after completing his post-stage warm down.
"You want a result, but you also want to keep in mind that it's still three or four weeks until the start of the Tour de France and the part where I should be good, in the Alps and Pyrenees, they're still around six weeks away. You want to have good feelings here, but you also want to have a feeling that you can still improve a bit. Suisse is always I race that I've liked and I've done well here before, so I will see. I'll take the race in a relaxed way, and try and stay out of trouble."
While several Tour de France GC hopefuls have targeted the Critérium du Dauphiné, Kruijswijk and a gaggle of other Tour riders have opted for Suisse. The race starts a week later than the Dauphine, thus allowing riders to hold their form back for a few extra days before embarking on a final block of training before the Tour starts on July 7.
"We were thinking that this would be the best way heading into the Tour. I think that this year, Suisse isn't as hard as the Dauphine, and you don't want to spend all your energy yet. There's still three weeks between this race and the Tour, and we'll do another good training block after."
While the Tour remains the end goal, the Tour de Suisse is still an important objective in itself. It still carries valuable WorldTour points, but more importantly, it is a stage race with a lasting legacy and heritage. The race's roll of honour includes names such as Kelly, Hampsten, Kuiper, De Vlaeminck, Merckx and Tonkov. If Kruijswijk, who finished third in 2017 and 2011, were in contention for another high-profile result, he would evidently seize it.
"I wouldn't be worried if I was on the podium here or had a good result. Certainly not," he told Cyclingnews.
"I would take that, for sure. I also know from racing that I continue to get better, so I'm not too worried about being 'too good' now. If I can get a result it's good for morale, and it's good for the team."
In recent years, Kruijswijk has singled out the Giro d'Italia as his main Grand Tour focus. In 2016, he came within three days of winning the race before eventually slipping to fourth. The Tour represents a fresh challenge, and although he will head into the race as a somewhat unfancied headliner, he has the credentials to leave an impression on the race.
"I've never targeted the Tour de France like I am now. This will be the first time. It's new for me, and it's the biggest race there is. Maybe the Giro is harder if you look at the stages, but altogether the Tour is a stressful race, with tricky stages from the beginning."
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