While the sprinters and Classics specialists focus on this Saturday's Milan-San Remo, many of the pro peloton's very best climbers, including Jumbo-Visma's Steven Kruijswijk, ready themselves for the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, which starts on Monday.
Kruijswijk can expect the full support of his teammates, as it was announced in recent days that the team's main sprinter, Dylan Groenewegen, would forego Catalunya in favour of riding his first Milan-San Remo, in order to gain experience.
"It's a very nice race," Kruijswijk said of Catalunya in a video posted on their site by Jumbo-Visma. "I think I've raced there almost every year since I turned pro.
"It's a course purely for climbers, with two uphill finishes [on stages 3 and 4]. I know the race well, and the goal is to be as close to the podium as possible – or actually get onto it."
If that sounds slightly unambitious, versus trying to go for the win, it's worth remembering that despite Kruijswijk's clear ability and consistency – over a number of years – the Dutchman has only ever taken two pro victories in his career: a stage of the 2011 Tour de Suisse and the overall prize at the Arctic Tour of Norway in 2014.
In 2016, he came close to pulling off what would have been the biggest win of his – or indeed any rider's – career when he crashed while leading the Giro d'Italia.
Just two days from the finish in Turin, with a 3:00 lead over Colombian Esteban Chaves, Kruijswijk crashed into one of the snowbanks on the edge of the road on the descent off the Colle dell'Agnello, losing his overall lead to Chaves, and almost five minutes to stage winner – and eventual Giro champion – Vincenzo Nibali.
"Last year I had a very good season as I finished in the top 10 in all the short stage races I did. Now, the next step is to try to get close to the podium in one-week races, and see how far I can get there," Kruijswijk said.
The Dutchman finished eighth overall at the Volta a Catalunya in 2018, and indeed finished in the top 10 of every stage race he took part in last season – including the Tour de France, where he finished fifth overall, and fourth at the Vuelta a España – but without making the podium at any of them.
However, already this season – in his only race so far – Kruijswijk has finished third overall at the Ruta del Sol, behind Astana pair Jakob Fuglsang and Ion Izagirre, and so is already on the way to fulfilling his podium goals.
"The shorter stage races are different to the Grand Tours. You see different riders up at the front," he said. "But I think it's within my abilities to race for the podium at Catalunya."
A podium place in Catalunya next week could give the 31-year-old the extra impetus he needs to start winning again, and to start believing in himself for the Grand Tours, too, with both the Tour and the Vuelta again on his programme this year.
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