CyclingPub Interview: Steven Kruijswijk confident ahead of Giro d'Italia
Jan 24 2017 10:23 am CET

CyclingPub Interview: Steven Kruijswijk confident ahead of Giro d'Italia

Steven Kruijswijk, who came close to the overall victory in the 2016 Giro d'Italia and will certainly be a top candidate for this year's edition of the Italian race, took a moment of his time for an interview with CyclingPub.

The Dutchman of LottoNL-Jumbo spent several days in the Pink Jersey of the Giro and continued to extend his lead over the nearest rivals when a crash in the penultimate mountain stage had him drop a few spots. A fourth place was what was left for the rider, who says that he is happy with the way he fought following that major setback.

The Vuelta a España was to be Kruijswijk's second chance for success but a low unprotected pole meant an early end to his ambitions. Nevertheless, his performance in 2016 was a confirmation of the rider's abilities, showing that he should be seen as a top favorite for any Grand Tour he takes part in. His team knows this too and has done what it could to reinforce its roster in order to help Kruijswijk when it matters.

The 29-year-old from Brabant, in the south of the Netherlands, spoke with CyclingPub during LottoNL-Jumbo's training camp near Alicante in Spain.

How is the preparation for the new season going?

Apart from the bad weather at the training camp it's going quite well. It's a shame that the weather hasn't been like we hoped but I've had a good preparation until now. It's been a long winter because I started training a bit earlier after my fall at the Vuelta. I started training in November. I think I'm on schedule.
Text continues below the gallery (hover on the photo to browse)

Steven Kruijswijk, Lotto NL-Jumbo
Photos by Mary Cárdenas / CyclingPub.com

What is your general feeling about the past season?

I have mixed feelings. I'm very happy with the level I was able to reach and it was a new experience to be in the lead in a Grand Tour, and maybe even perform above expectation. We hadn't expected to be in that position. But that situation did arise and it went very well, although we all know how it ended. That was of course disappointing. The fourth place was still my best result in a Grand Tour. If you think of what would have been possible I'm happy with what I managed to show but I'm hungry for more.

"I made a mistake myself in that curve. Maybe I wasn't very sharp at that moment, focusing on eating and taking care of myself."

That crash in the Giro; do you think it was just bad luck or did it happen because Vincenzo Nibali was willing to take such a big risk?

I know what Nibali is like as a rider. He hadn't had a great Giro until then and wasn't in the best shape. He did get better each day and I reckon he was just focused on a stage victory and maybe reach the podium. Until then I had gained time on him on every uphill finish. When I fell, there were just three of us left; Nibali, (Esteban) Chaves and myself. It was a good situation because I knew that Nibali wanted to get to the podium. (Alejandro) Valverde and (Rafal) Majka, his direct rivals, had been dropped. I think he was concentrating on that rather than trying to attack me on the descent.

I made a mistake myself in that curve. Maybe I wasn't very sharp at that moment, focusing on eating and taking care of myself. I don't think it was caused by the way he descended. You could also see at the Olympics that he always descends as fast as possible. That comes with risks, also for himself.

Despite the setback, you seemingly managed to keep the motivation to make the best of it.

Yes, of course I did try to limit the damage, also on the day of the crash. But mentally it was difficult because of the distance I still had to do by myself. In the end the damage could have been much worse. There was another mountain stage the day after and I was still in third place then. I didn't know how that day would go as I had fractured my ribs and a foot. But it being the last day, I decided that I didn't want to arrive at one hour and go home completely empty-handed. It's better to go down fighting. I knew my legs were alright, I didn't have pain there and my condition was great. I had to go very deep that day and I'm happy that even though it was just a fourth place, I managed to do it.

"For me as a rider it's important that we don't have to worry about these things. We already make things dangerous enough ourselves."

Your Vuelta was a lot shorter than planned. The organisation apologized for the pole you hit, but did anything else come out of that situation?

The team is still working on that, asking how this could have happened. The organisation missed the pole and the parcours wasn't safe. It meant that the biggest target for the second half of my season was gone. The team is trying to get compensated. I don't know what will happen with that. For me as a rider it's important that we don't have to worry about these things. We already make things dangerous enough ourselves considering the risks we take on descents or in mass sprints.

The level is so high that you have to fight for every spot, every centimeter. But if we also have to keep an eye on whether there are cars, unprotected poles or motorbikes, it's hard for us to race freely. So I hope that a solution will be found.

Has a lot changed for your position within the team following the Giro?

We already knew that I was capable of riding in the top ten or top five in Grand Tours, but now we know that a podium spot is within reach. In order to achieve that, the team has to be prepared. This means that we will go to the Giro with the best possible preparation and with me as sole leader. In other years we would sometimes bring a sprinter or the domestiques wouldn't be in the best shape because they had just done the spring classics. Now we know how important it is to have a strong team.

Are you happy with the new additions?

Yes, we knew what we were lacking in the mountains so we looked for the kind of riders that would suit me; mostly experienced guys such as Stef (Clement) and Jurgen (Van den Broeck). I don't have to explain anything to them. Jurgen has already been a team leader and Stef knows what it's like to ride for a leader and he is a good climber. So I'm happy with their arrivals.

Did you have a lot of influence on the signings?

Yes, we looked at it together. You know that it's going to be difficult to fight against big teams like Movistar and Sky, so you have to find riders that have the necessary qualities and don't have the interest of those teams but can still be very important. We looked at what I felt good with and what can the team do. I think we found a good solution.

You just signed a new contract. Does this mean that you have confidence in the team?

Definitely. I have been here for some years now, with the people I know. I think we have everything sorted. Looking at the steps I've been able to make in the last years, I am happy to keep working with the people I trust. I know that the material is good, and the nutrition. These things are important to me and I wouldn't want to risk them by joining another team. If you look at how close I got last year, maybe we will now be able to make that final step.

Your relation with Bianchi is also good? They made a special time trial bike for you ahead of the last Giro. What do such things mean to you?

It's nice when a supplier gets involved. I do want to spend energy and time on the development of bikes but I mostly want to focus on races. The team's development guys work with them to tell them what needs to be adjusted. When I start the Giro I want to know that the bike is good, rather than having to deal with it in the winter. That just costs energy. Now I know that it's good and that allows me to be calm.

"For me these are the ingredients I need, that it gets hard right from the start."

As for the upcoming Giro, you're quite enthusiastic about the route right?

Yes. The Giro is always difficult of course. This time it contains all kinds of things early on. Uphill finishes, a challenging time trial and a flat time trial at the end and a very difficult last week in the Dolomites. For me these are the ingredients I need, that it gets hard right from the start.

Are you looking at specific stages?

The difference will mostly be made in the second half with the long time trial in Umbria and the Blockhaus climb. People will be more tired by then and you know who is in form and who isn't. That's when you have to be at your best, especially in the last week with finishes on the Mortirolo and the Stelvio. It won't be a matter of seconds anymore, like in the first week, but rather a matter of minutes.

What is it that makes the Giro so special to you?

It was my first Grand Tour and I came back every year. Somehow I always perform well in that time of the year. My biological rhythm allows me to be in top shape in May. The route also suits me. It's a bit heavier than the Tour and the race is more open, less controlled. It's more of a man against man battle, which I like. I also like the atmosphere of the Giro.

"I know I can handle the level. I'm not scared of them."

The list of participants looks very strong this year. How do you see your own chances?

It looks like a lot of leaders will choose the Giro this year. On one hand that makes things more difficult but it's nice as well. It will be even more unpredictable and I don't think it will be a disadvantage for me. There'll be some top favorites like Nibali, (Fabio) Aru and (Nairo) Quintana. Those are the guys with experience and Grand Tour victories, a step above me. I will like to see what I'm capable of against them. Last year I also rode against Nibali, Valverde and Chaves. They have those qualities as well. I know I can handle the level. I'm not scared of them.

You may also ride the Vuelta. The route has recently been announced. Did you look at it already?

Just globally. I wouldn't know exactly what it looks like. A lot of uphill finishes. The focus is on the Giro now and in the second half of the season I will concentrate on the Vuelta.

A lot has changed in the past few years when it's about Dutch riders in grand tours. Previously they were somewhat invisible but Bauke Mollema, Tom Dumoulin and you have all been close to big results now. Is it a change of mentality?

I don't know. It does look like we've come to the surface, that we've realized that we can compete for the win. It's different from when you aim for a top-ten spot. It's nice when you achieve that once but sometimes it happens anonymously. You can finish eighth or ninth without having been visible throughout the race. Now we're fortunately in a position and condition to compete. Bauke, Tom and I; we're in the mix now. It makes a big difference whether you ride for the top ten or the top five or even the podium. You really show that you're there and you gain respect.

Do you think there may be some kind of healthy rivalry between the Dutch riders?

I definitely think so. I know those guys quite well. We were together during the Olympic Games but we all have our own ambitions too. If you look at what Bauke and Tom can do, you wonder what you are capable of yourself. It's probably a selfish thing, wanting to do the same. Why shouldn't I be able to do what they do? We may inspire each other in that sense, especially seeing that it's possible, which is a nice thing.
Photo of Steven Kruijswijk by Mary Cárdenas / CyclingPub.com





COMMENTS