Steven Kruijswijk strongly believes that his Jumbo-Visma squad can make further improvements and challenge Team Ineos' grip on the Tour de France in the next few years. The Dutch rider was speaking after confirming his first Grand Tour podium after a resilient and aggressive display from his teammates on the final stage in the Alps on Saturday saw him move into third.
Although Team Ineos head to Paris with the top two podium positions courtesy of Egan Bernal and last year's winner Geraint Thomas, this Tour has shown glimpses of Jumbo-Visma's growing prowess in three-week stage races. With Primoz Roglic set to return to the Tour in the future and Tom Dumoulin a possible signing for 2020, the Dutch team will be buoyed by their first Tour podium in Visma colours.
"We've shown as a team that we're a squad for the Grand Tours. I think if you keep in mind that we came in with a lot of goals, with the sprint part of the team, and then the TTT, and were still capable of being there in the mountains it shows that we're capable of fighting for the Grand Tours. We have Primoz in the team who wasn't even here and a few other guys who make the team really strong, so in the next years, we can really take the fight to Team Ineos and take Grand Tours wins," Kruijswijk said in his press conference in Val Thorens.
The Dutch squad has won four stages so far in the race with Mike Teunissen, winning a stage and wearing yellow, and Dylan Groenewegen, Wout van Aert and the squad as a whole in the team time trial all tasting success. Their performances in the mountains – especially in the Pyrenees – helped light up the race with George Bennett and Laurens de Plus focusing their attentions on supporting Kruijswijk's podium hopes.
"This was our main goal at the beginning of the Tour. The shortening of the last two days didn't make things easier but we got on the podium at the right time. Since the race start in Brussels, we were on the right flow. We had a great team and my part started half-way and we thought that it was possible to be on the podium. This is a big relief."
Kruijswijk's podium chances were dented when stage 19 and 20 were shorted due to poor weather but on the 59km stage to Val Thorens the Dutchman put his team to work on the long climb to the finish and finally cracked Julian Alaphilippe for good. The reduced stage distances in the Alps tempered Kruijswijk's chances to some degree but he hinted that the strongest rider in Egan Bernal was a worthy winner.
"We knew the winner yesterday but this is still an exciting day for me. Overall this was also an exciting Tour, especially in the Pyrenees. There were five or six guys on the same level and we were fighting for each other. Guys had good days, guys had bad days, and I think that was exciting to see. I think that the public enjoyed it too."
"Maybe it would have been more of a 'what if', if I had stayed fourth in the standings but I was going to the podium and knew that the stages in the Alps really suited me. Yesterday Egan was really strong, and Thomas was really strong. It would have been very hard to beat them. I had to fight today but you have to take it as it comes. Yesterday was a good decision by the organization. Today was the same but we took responsibility as a team and kept on thinking that the podium was in reach. We showed that we're capable of fighting for Grand Tours and for me it's not a case of 'what if'."
Kruijswijk's career as a Grand Tour rider has contained a few 'what ifs' but his record in three-week races is impressive nonetheless. He has four top-ten places in his last four Grand Tour starts if this Tour is included, and although he lacks Dumoulin's trial or Froome's unique mountain cadence, he remains one of the most consistent stage racing performers.
"I believed before the race that I could be on the podium. I've shown in the last few years that I'm always there in the Grand Tour. I always have a good level over three weeks. I know that it's hard to win against the guys who are winning the Grand Tours, especially in the Tour de France but I kept believing in myself. I was fifth in the Tour and fourth in the Vuelta. My next goal was the podium. To do that in the Tour gives me great satisfaction."
The next question is whether Kruijswijk can improve on a third place in Grand Tours.