An event as complex as the Giro d’Italia can never be reduced to simple arithmetic, but Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) must still have felt a degree of frustration when he did the math on reaching Milan at the end of last year’s race.
Despite losing 8:27 on the rolling road to La Spezia on stage 4, Kruijswijk recovered so well in the final week that he finished the race in eighth place on general classification, 10:53 behind the pink jersey of Alberto Contador, but less than eight minutes off a place on the final podium.
There is always a risk of adding two and two to make a five in such cases, but Kruijswijk set out from his native Netherlands for this year’s Giro determined not to bleed seconds – far less minutes – needlessly in the opening two weeks of racing.
Kruijswijk was vigilant on Tuesday as the race split up on the Calabrian coast on the Giro’s first stage in Italy on Tuesday, staying positioned towards the front of the group of favourites on the final climb of the Fortino, and even slipping off the front in the company of fellow countryman Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) in the run-in, eventually placing third on the stage.
“I was looking forward to the stage: it was a little test for me, to see where my place is in this moment. I just tried to be in front on the climb and I was really good. There were no troubles on the climb or in the final,” Kruijswijk told Cyclingnews afterwards.
Though the Dutch tandem was unable to peg back stage winner Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), the time bonus for third place in Praia a Mare means that Kruijswijk moves up to fourth overall, 24 seconds down on the restored race leader Dumoulin.
“I was sitting on Tom’s wheel because I knew he was strong and then suddenly he tried to ride away in the last k and I followed him,” he said. “I knew Tom wasn’t going to pull me to the stage win and I saw Ulissi was a little bit too far. The only thing I could do was try to ride, but the most important thing was that I got through the day pretty well and the team supported me well through the day.”
The other Dutchman
Considering his country’s longstanding – though in recent years unrequited – love affair with the Tour de France, Kruijswijk is something of a rarity: a Dutchman more enamoured of the Giro than the Grande Boucle. He placed 18th overall as a neo-professional in 2010, then 8th a year later, and has missed the Giro just once in his career, in 2012.
“It’s more unpredictable and that’s more my style of racing, I think. On Tuesday, you could see from the road book that the final was up and down, but in reality it was even harder than it seemed,” he said. “I can do more of my own thing in races like this and I like that. I like the style of racing in Italy.”
Kruijswijk’s best Giro came a year ago, not only for his final position in Milan, but for his body of work over the second half of the race. He impressed on the Mortirolo en route to second place at Aprica, and recorded top five finishes at the summit finishes at Madonna di Campiglio, Cervinia and Sestriere, and at the Valdobbiadene time trial, for good measure.
The maglia rosa Dumoulin may currently be the man generating column inches and headlines back home in the Netherlands, but by race’s end, the focus may well have shifted to Kruijswijk. The 28-year-old was reluctant, however, to outline a precise ambition.
“I don’t have a number in my mind but I want to be in the top ten for sure,” Kruijswijk said. “Last year I lost a lot of minutes in the first week so I have to make sure I don’t do that again. Then in the final week, it’s not going to be about seconds anymore, it’s going to be about minutes. I want to be good there but it’s important to stay focused on these kind of stages, they can be dangerous. But in the end, I could be 8th and satisfied or I could be 8th and not satisfied.”
Thursday’s long haul to Rifugio Aremogna at Roccaraso should be the next major rendezvous for the podium contenders at this Giro, but Kruijswijk – mindful of the lessons of 2015 – warned that nothing is ever straightforward in Italy in May.
“Thursday is the first uphill finish but have to be sharp every day, even in a sprint stage,” he said. “It’s every day and that’s the thing about being a GC rider at the Giro: you can never lie back and think I can have a day off. That’s only for the rest days.”
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