Steven Kruijswijk may have missed this year's Tour de France due to a late injury but last year's podium finisher has watched the race develop and, although he is pleased with how his Jumbo-Visma squad have ridden into the race lead, he believes that Tom Dumoulin's decision to sacrifice his own chances wasn’t necessary.
On stage 8 of the race, Dumoulin took control of the yellow jersey group and set a blistering pace on the Col de Peyresourde. His efforts blew the race apart but they also ensured that he lost time too. The move showed great sacrifice and commitment to the team’s cause but it also eliminated the former Giro d’Italia champion from the GC battle.
On stage 9, Dumoulin was also utilized as a super domestique, and once more he lost time. Going into the first rest day, Dumoulin is in 14th place, 3:22 down on Primoz Roglic’s yellow jersey.
"The only thing is that Tom is out of contention for the GC, that’s maybe a bit of a setback for the team but Primoz has shown his strength and I’m confident that he will be the big favourite to take yellow to Paris, hopefully," Kruijswijk told Cyclingnews from his training camp in Tignes.
"I can’t look into his mind or know how his legs felt, so if he says he wasn’t feeling his best all week or didn’t have the confidence to be there with the best, that’s his choice.
"Maybe afterwards it’s not the best choice and it would have been smarter to have waited over the weekend and seen how far he could have gone instead of sacrificing himself with a really big pull that blew the field apart. Maybe it was better to wait and see how far he could have gone. Maybe he would have lost a minute over the weekend and then he would have had some cards to play. That’s maybe decided in a split second and maybe it was a lack of confidence in himself for now after such a long period of racing, but clearly that wasn’t the plan as I read it from the team. It is what it is now.
“I think it wasn’t necessary. I don’t say it’s a mistake. It was unnecessary to do that at that point in the race, so early in the Tour de France because you know that he’s a big rider and that he’s capable of being on the top level for three weeks. It’s maybe too early to sacrifice himself and set himself aside.”
Overall, however, Kruijswijk has been impressed with how Jumbo-Visma have ridden the race. They have been aggressive at times and have tallied up three stage wins already. Although they’re probably not as dominant as they were at the Critérium du Dauphiné, they still have the numbers on the climbs, and in Wout van Aert they arguably have the most complete rider in the race.
Roglic has a 21-second lead over last year’s winner Egan Bernal after nine days of racing but it’s Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) who looks like the most dangerous threat. He won stage 9 in a thrilling sprint finish and but for the time he lost in the crosswinds on stage 7 he would be the race lead at this point.
"Clearly it’s Pogacar," Kruijswijk said when asked who Jumbo’s biggest threat was.
"He’s really strong with his attack on Saturday and again yesterday. He’s clearly there and he’s not afraid to attack and play his cards. He’s young and ambitious, and he’ll be a tough guy for the team to handle but I think that as long as Primoz stays with him, he can beat him.
"Straight from the start Jumbo-Visma showed responsibility for the race and really showed their ambitions. So far they’ve played it well, saving energy at the right moments but also spending energy at the right moments to be at the front. On Sunday, when they took the jersey, it was a really strong team performance, and they showed that in the past week."
It has been hard, however, for Kruijswijk to watch from afar. He was supposed to be at the Tour as part of a three-pronged attack but the injuries sustained from his Dauphiné crash came too late for a proper recovery and he was replaced at the last minute.
"I’ve watched how the team is going and I’m really happy that they’re going well but, at the same time, it’s a big disappointment to not be there as part of the team. I’m not able to show myself and what I could have done in the Tour this year, especially the last two days in the Pyrenees. That was difficult to watch. It’s hard sitting at home and not being able to test yourself in the biggest race of the year. Especially with the ambitions that we had."
The 33-year-old will now turn his attention to the Giro d’Italia, which starts later this month. Kruijswijk has a long history with the race, having finished as high as fourth in the 2016 race. He was the strongest rider in that year’s race until a late crash robbed him of the chance to finish off the job but his consistency over three weeks, plus a route that suits him, means that he will head to Italy as a legitimate contender for the maglia rosa if he can regain his form.
"The recovery hasn’t been completely finished. I have to say that I got back on the bike last week and I felt okay. My shoulder is still sore, and there’s a little fracture in it so I have to watch out with some movements on the road, and of course there’s a risk of falling again and doing more damage. But I can ride my bike and hopefully I can improve in the next coming weeks. Luckily there was no need for surgery and it could just heal by itself," he said.
"I realized after two days that I could do the Tour but I’m happy that I was able to regain my focus for the Giro. Missing the Tour was a big disappointment but I had some time to relax and to try and take my mind off things. The next goal is the Giro and now I’m fully committed to it. Like every year, the Giro is one of the toughest race. I’m happy that I can focus on it, and I’m really motivated to get something out of this season, and I want to wash away the disappointment of not being there in the Tour. The Giro is a good opportunity but I have to see how fit I will be at the start. I’ll try and go for the GC, of course."
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