While Robert Gesink and Wilco Kelderman vie for the top spot at LottoNL-Jumbo during this year’s Tour de France the dependable Steven Kruijswijk finds himself in the position of underdog, flying under the radar and attracting little attention ahead of Saturday’s Grand Depart in Utrecht.
And the unassuming Kruijswijk would not have it any other way. Just over a month ago he locked horns with Alberto Contador and a pocket of the best climbers in the world at the Giro d’Italia and came away with a creditable seventh overall and a sense of admiration from cycling fans for his aggressive riding style. That he clawed his way back from a disastrous opening week only magnified how he rallied in the second half of the race.
At the Tour LottoNL have come with four climbers, their four aces that include Kelderman, Gesink, Kruijswijk and Laurens ten Dam. All four have the pedigree to lead and ride into the top 10, even top five at a push, although Kelderman is probably the rider who shines brightest at present.
For Kruijswijk, however, the plan is to simply survive the opening nine days of this year’s race with the cobbles, wind and predicted rain all set to reek havoc on the peloton. The Dutchman will not be expected to ride for others and has a pass to look after himself before the second half of the race opens up with the mountains. Should LottoNL emerge from the rest day with their four climbers fit, healthy and in form, Kruijswijk will be allowed off the leash with stage wins the order of the day.
The question for now is how well has Kruijswijk recovered after the Giro d’Italia.
“That’s a bit of a question mark for myself,” he told Cyclingnews after he left the stage at the end of his team’s pre-race press conference in Utrecht.
“I’ve taken some rest, about two weeks, and then spent some time at altitude and done two weeks of training there. I came out tired from the Giro but I think that with some good rest and some good training my levels are still good.”
If the legs are fresh what about the mind? Three week of grueling racing in Italy would take their toll on any rider.
“I’m looking forward to the Tour. It’s a different approach but I can go into the Tour with already having a good result from the Giro and that makes it mentally a bit easier. I’m still focused but I’m also more relaxed. Maybe that’s a good way to start the Tour and then I’ll see what I can do in the second and third weeks.”
“We’ll support Robert and Wilco at the start and I have to sort my own way through those stages. Hopefully I’ll get through the first rest day and then we’ll start the mountains. If I don’t lose too much time in the first week, we’ll see.”
Stage 12 to Plateau de Beille stands out as a potential target for Kruijswijk but so does the penultimate stage of this year’s race to Alpe d’Heuz, where every Dutch rider, from climber to sprinter, dreams of winning. It’s been 26 years since Gert-Jan Theunisse won on the climb – the last Dutch rider to do so, and coincidently he won the Mountains jersey that year, another aim for Kruijswijk, who was but two years old when Theunisse picked up the biggest win of his career.
“I’ll try to go on the attack for stages and in the back of my mind I’ll think about the KOM jersey. I’ve looked at the finish to Plateau de Beille as it was close by to where I was training. I know that finish is hard but of course I’m looking forward to the penultimate stage on Alpe d’Huez because I’ve never ridden there before.”
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