A stunning time trial performance on Tuesday had catapulted him onto the provisional podium and to the forefront of everyone’s minds. The Dutchman was back in the mix, it was thought, and even overall leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was talking of him as a serious threat for the final mountain stages.
Twenty-four hours on, and by the top of Monte Oiz, Kruijswijk had slipped back down to fifth overall, his time trial gains wiped out in the space of three tortuously steep kilometres.
"Every day is different. One day you win time, the other day you lose time. Today I lost it,” Kruijswijk told reporters beyond the finish line.
The losses totalled 1:04 to the top GC finishers, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors), the 23-year-old Spaniard taking his place on the provisional podium. Though he finished alongside a similarly ailing Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Kruijswijk lost 56 seconds to Yates and 54 to Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).
And it was Lopez who applied the pressure that would see him move back above Kruijswijk.
While the break was allowed enough freedom to share out stage honours between them, Astana set a fierce tempo at the head of the peloton on the approach to the final climb. They continued their efforts as the road headed steadily uphill in the first portion of the climb, and Kruijswijk was already near his limit when the tarmac turned to concrete and the road tilted vertiginously.
“The pace was so high at the beginning of the final climb, that at a certain moment I could not follow anymore,” said Kruijswijk.
“I maybe had to force myself a little bit too much at the beginning of the climb. I tried there to finish as best I could, and that’s it.”
Kruijswijk said he’d been told the climb eased off in the final kilometre. Indeed, the oft-questionable Vuelta roadboock seemed to back that up, but while the road did level out under the flame rouge, it would only ramp back up to 20 per cent all the way to the line.
"I was told that it would level off somewhat at the end, but that was not the case. I could therefore no longer hold my rhythm,” Kruijswijk said. “It was very steep – more crawling than riding.”
It’s anyone’s guess where Kruijswijk goes from here. After a flat stage on Thursday, the Vuelta will conclude with two big mountain stages in Andorra before the final procession into Madrid.
As Kruijswijk said, sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, but there’s still plenty of space for the pendulum to swing.
“Nothing is finished until Saturday night,” he concluded.
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