The Alpe d'Huez is often known as the Dutch mountain due to the successes of Joop Zoetemelk, Hennie Kuiper and Peter Winnen in the 1970s and 80s. On Thursday's stage 12 of the Tour de France, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) came close to giving the Netherlands their first Dutch winner on the Alpe since Gert-Jan Theunisse in 1989, but it wasn't to be.
Kruijswijk, who started the day sitting in sixth overall, managed to infiltrate the early breakaway before launching a solo attack on the slopes of the Col de la Croix-de-Fer with more than 70 kilometres remaining. It was a daring move and it looked like he could pull off the heist when he hit the foot of the Alpe d'Huez with well over four minutes in hand.
His dream would be over when he was passed by Chris Froome with 3.5 kilometres to go, followed by several other general classification contenders. Kruijswijk would lose 53 seconds in the end but remains in the top 10 in eighth place.
"It was worth a try," Kruijswijk said. "It went very well today. Only the last bit was too much. I rode alone for a long time in the valley to Alpe d'Huez and that cost a lot of power. I knew that when I started it, but I still had less than I had hoped. It is a little disappointing that I did not make it, but it was a beautiful day. Fortunately, I did not collapse completely and I am still pretty good in the ranking."
Kruijswijk's roommate at this year's Tour de France, Robert Gesink, had also made it into the early move and helped to facilitate the long-range attack. At the finish line, he spoke of his admiration for his compatriot.
"We went in the early break on the Madeleine and it was a good strong group, you could see who was there," Gesink said. "I asked him what he wanted and I tried to help him as much as I could and then he attacked himself quite early on the Croix de Fer and he looked super strong. He got pretty far, but I think the valley on the way to Alpe d'Huez with Team Sky being a strong collective, they took a lot of power out of him and he came a bit short. It was a pity for us.
"I have to say I have a lot of respect for my roomie and what he was able to do. He was really strong and really relaxed during this Tour and I think that he can do some more impressive stuff in the days to come. I'm really proud of him and what he did and the way we rode as a team.
Roglic plays down overall chances
While his teammate was up the road, Primoz Roglic was locked in his own battle as he tried to hold onto the coattails of the other general classification contenders. He did so for much of the day, only losing touch in the final four kilometres when the stinging attacks began to come. Still, he gave away just 13 seconds to Thomas and held onto his fifth place at 2:46 behind the yellow jersey. It was Roglic's first time racing up the Alpe d'Huez and, needless to say, it was an experience.
"It was a big fight, what can I say, it was really hard," Roglic said at the finish. "My tactic was to climb as fast as I could and get to the finish. I was just a little behind, the climb was a little long. It was a really crazy climb to do for the first time.
"For sure, although I would prefer to win, it's a big race and the guys are riding really fast. I think I still have to train a little bit or something."
Roglic has been a rising star in stage racing this season but he has never contested an overall classification at a Grand Tour before and has insisted that he's at the Tour de France to learn. With the first batch of big mountains out of the way and a strong fifth in the GC, Roglic is cementing himself as a serious threat. However, he remains coy about what he can do.
"We'll see. It's a long way to the finish. I'll still take the same approach, I will take it day by day and try to see how it goes," Roglic told the press. "I'm staying the same, focusing day by day and enjoying the race and I will see how it goes."
Kruijswijk came into the race as the team leader and with the Dutchman still well positioned on the overall standings, LottoNL-Jumbo have two cards to play in the coming mountain stages. Roglic said that he's happy to still have his teammate close to him in the GC with plenty more tough mountain stages to come.
"I don't know how it will go or how the results will be but for sure the more strong guys that we have the better," he explained. "If you're alone then you're always risking much more so I think that it's good that we are together and we can work and help each other on the climbs."
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