Warming down beside the LottoNL-Jumbo team bus in a quiet back lane deep in rural Asturias, Steven Kruijswijk looked the picture of calm as he pedalled steadily and talked to a gaggle of Dutch reporters.
Yet less than an hour before on the Vuelta a España's ultra difficult stage 14 finale up the Praeres climb, Kruijswijk had been anything but laid back as he blasted past early attacker Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and bounded up the ascent at impressively high speed.
Kruijswijk explained to the Dutch reporters that his early attack had not been pre-formulated – simply that he wanted to ride his own tempo, knowing that the Colombian riders would make their move a little later.
"I even had a faint hope that I might have got the stage win had they started looking at each other instead of chasing me down," the Dutchman said. "But they didn't."
Still, having been reeled in and placed sixth on the stage, Kruijswijk has jumped from ninth to fifth overall, at 1:23 to race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), moving ahead of Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida), Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac), Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) and Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale). All in all, a good operation.
"We were in a small group at the bottom of climb, and I had a good position," Kruijswijk said. "I knew it would be steep, so I just tried to take the lead and hold the steady pace, and wait for them to catch me, so I could hang on.
"It was a little too much, but compared to yesterday's ascent [Friday], it was a little bit better. That's a good sign for me."
Kruijswijk also praised stage winner Simon Yates for his strong performance.
"He went for it exactly where he had to go," he said. "He played it very well."
Kruijswijk's mixture of playing it cool off the bike and aggressive on it is perhaps explained by his well-fought Tour de France. Having taken fifth overall in Paris, Kruijswijk has come into the Vuelta a España with at least some of his season's goals achieved. On top of that, he's feeling a little more confident about his consistency every day on the Spanish Grand Tour, to the point where when asked if he feared a big, unexpected off-day, he reportedly answered that "I never have them".
If Kruijswijk's holding his own on the climbs, his opportunity to do real damage in the Vuelta GC – where he finished ninth last year – may yet be in the race's one time trial next Tuesday. He is, one Dutch journalist suggested, the best in that speciality amongst the Vuelta's top GC contenders.
"Yes, but I'm not Tom Dumoulin [Sunweb], so I'm not going to take minutes back," Kruijswijk answered, referring to the current world time trial champion's ability to carve a GC win out of his performance against the clock. "Don't expect too much there."
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