Rider Interview: Steven Kruijswijk has ridden five Giri, three Tours and a Vuelta, two top ten overall finishes and never out of the top 50. Steven is a Grand Tour rider through and through with a great love for the Giro, his main focus for the 2016 season. We caught up with the Dutchman at his LottoNL-Jumbo training camp in Spain.
Kruijswijk rode for the Rabobank Continental team from 2007 before turning professional for the Rabobank pro team which eventually became LottoNL-Jumbo. For a rider from the flatlands of Holland he has shown his climbing legs in the Grand Tours and that is where his future lies.
PEZ: Last year you rode really well in the Giro and Tour, are you aiming to do the same again this year?
Steven Kruijswijk: Absolutely. I’ll have the two big goals this season, obviously the Grand Tours, first will be the Giro and then afterwards the Vuelta.
PEZ: But not the Tour?
No, no. Last year I experienced the combination of the Giro and the Tour was too tough, they are too close. I felt I had a good level at the Tour, I was good, but not good enough, as I was in the Giro. First I will prepare well for the Giro to be as good as I was last year and then I will try to do the same in the Vuelta because I have two and a half months to prepare and I think that will be enough. You saw last year the guys who did the Giro/Tour it was too much, I think this is a better combination.
PEZ: Are the Olympics on your list?
They are definitely on my list, but it’s going to be hard to make the selection, there are only four guys in the team there and a few guys are almost certain they will go. I don’t know, we will hear at the end of May and if I can go, I will go, of course, but it’s hard to say now.
PEZ: Most riders I’ve spoke to think that the Tour would be the best preparation for the Olympic games.
Well, like I said there is only four riders, so I don’t want to make my program towards the Olympics and in the end not participate in them. If I hear I am going I’ll change my program a little bit. But for now I will focus on the Giro and Vuelta. The Tour guys will probably do the Olympics as well and then some guys will try to do the Vuelta, that’s a little bit too hard, so I see more chance for me in the Vuelta only, to go there and I try to aim as high as possible.
PEZ: What do you think of the Vuelta course?
I haven’t seen it in detail yet. I saw there are a lot of stages in the north of Spain, I know Galicia, Asturias and the Basque Country, it’s really hard, hard stages, it’s always up and down and I think that suits me pretty well. The harder the stages they are, in between, it’s better for me. I think there are ten uphill finishes, normally that suits me, so we will see. It’s really for climbers.
PEZ: There is the time trial on the third last stage and the penultimate stage finishes on the summit of the Aitana, that could be quite decisive.
Yes, I think so, I will recon the time trial course tomorrow and the Aitana, I know the climb a little bit, not the last part you can’t train on it. We train a lot here so we know the roads but that last weekend will be decisive for the GC I think.
PEZ: Do you prefer the Giro to the Tour?
I definitely want to go back to the Giro because the race suits me very well and also I like to take my chances in two races, not just the Tour because you never know how it will end up in the Tour and there are too many risks to focus on only that. Also it is true that most guys will focus on the Tour and I think I can focus on being in the top five in the Giro and la Vuelta and that is a little bit, not easier, but more realistic to go there than go for a Tour top five.
PEZ: What will be your build-up to the Giro?
I won’t race a lot before, I will probably do the Ruta del Sol, Paris-Nice, Catalunya and then I will go for altitude training in Tenerife for three weeks. Then I will do the three days in Yorkshire in preparation for the Giro.
PEZ: You rode Yorkshire last year, what was that like?
Apart from the crash I had on the first day, it was good. It’s a nice race, it’s pretty hard, the weather has to be good, but that is the same everywhere. I prefer to go for three days than Romandie for six days and the weather can be terrible there. It’s a pretty hard race and it can be quite hilly in Yorkshire, it has one sprint stage and one medium stage and one hard one, so for me it’s good to have a little kick before the Giro.
PEZ: Will you ride any of the Ardennes Classics?
No, they are on during my period of training and one day races don’t suit my style.
PEZ: You rode Amstel a few years ago.
I rode it once at the start of my career, but it is too explosive, it doesn’t suit me. You have to make choices and I focus on stage races and I want to improve more and more on that instead of trying to be good in one day races as well.
PEZ: You are 28 now, that is usually an important period in a riders career. You should now be at your best, although with guys riding in their 40’s it’s difficult to say.
I think physically, this is the age when you become the strongest. I said last year I wanted to go for GC in the Giro and now I really want to see where I am standing and see if I am going to be a GC contender or I have to make a choice and maybe have to go for stages in races and help the other guys. Last year I saw I could go for the GC. The final week gave me a lot of confidence that I can do better, so that is why I’m focusing on GC’s in Grand Tours, especially. I’ll try to be the best there.
PEZ: Will you be the LottoNL-Jumbo team leader in the Giro?
Yeah. I am the only GC rider on the team who will go there. For me that gives me a lot of confidence as well, I can pick my own program and also it is my own choice to go to the Giro and Vuelta and the team will send the best team they can to support me.
PEZ: Usually by the time of the Vuelta everyone is tired and that can affect who the team can send to the Vuelta to back up the leader.
We have divided the team a little bit and the guys who are riding the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta, but in the end, of course I need a good team and I’ll need to be on top of myself.
PEZ: I was thinking of last year and the Vuelta with Tom Dumoulin, his team were good, but they were not there at the end when he needed them.
Yeah, but nobody expected Tom to be in the lead so far into the race. I hope to be there one day, but to be in that position in a Grand Tour you need a strong team, you see that with Asana and Sky, they have to carry the riders, they have to control the race. For the rest of the guys, it’s more of a case of you follow and if you have someone with you, thats nice. Like last year in the Giro, I didn’t really have any support in the mountain stages and that’s hard and it’s always good to have somebody and the team saw this and we have some new riders in the team who can climb pretty good and they will be riding the Giro and Vuelta.
PEZ: You’ve been in the same team since you turned professional, although it has changed sponsors, you must be happy, have you ever thought about moving on
I’m very happy here. Of course when the sponsors stopped I was thinking “what now?” But in the end the team stuck together and in my first years as a pro I was going up, up, up and then had to step back a little due to an injury and then come back to the level I am at now. I’m glad I could do it in this team and I can still ride for my own chances in this team, that is always the question if you pick another team or ride for someone else. In the future we will see and this is my last year of contract and we will see if the team want me to stay, but that is for the end of the season; first I start racing and don’t worry about that.
PEZ: How did you start cycling when you were a kid?
When I was 15 or 16 years old I just started riding my bike with my father and we were just touring around and at that point I quit playing football and went to the local club and that was it. I was interested in cycling and I watched the Tour de France. I was playing soccer and just started to ride the bike, with football you really need the technique from when you are 9 or 10, but you can learn to ride in a group when you are 15 or 16 with the juniors.
PEZ: How can someone who is from a flat country like Holland know he can climb?
Really it was the year before I became professional with the team, we had the Under 23 Rabobank team, we did some international races and I started to notice. But even in my first year with the professional Rabobank team I was riding all sorts of races, like the Vuelta a Burgos, the Ruta del Sol to Gent-Wevelgem and flat races, but step by step they saw that I was more of a climber than a Classics rider and I started to focus more on climbing and straight away from the first year I was trying to improve my climbing and I moved to Spain to live there to train on my climbing skills.
When I was a junior and Under 23 rider, we did all kinds of amateur races, once in a while we would do a race where you had to climb, maybe it was once a year so you would never discover you could climb. My climbing improved a lot just by training to climb, but you have to experience the big climbs and I got the chance with the team, in my first year, when they put me in the Giro.
PEZ: The Giro! That’s a good way to find out.
There is no better way. It’s hard and it’s three weeks and at the end of the third week I was still climbing with the best 20 guys in the peloton and they (the team) saw that I could improve as a first year professional. I was 22 and they just phoned me two days before, I replaced Oscar Freire, he had an injury and they waited till the last days to see if he would improve and if he could ride with the injury, but in the end they said if you want you can come and ride and we will see how you go. Learn, see and do everything and in the end we will see. It was like a dream come true, of course, to ride a Grand Tour in your first year. It was a nice experience
PEZ: But crazy, maybe?
It’s like no other level, the racing, three weeks, every day and in Italy, in such a hectic race, but when you are riding such a good race you can only dream of more.
PEZ: The Vuelta and Tour are great races, but the Italian fans at Giro is something else.
Yeah, that is why I love to return. I have ridden it five times and for me the Giro its self is what cycling stands for; the race, the course, all the different kinds of weather is a factor, the people, the hotels, the food… all. Speaking of the love of cycling, the Tour is so big it is beyond that, if I could pick one race, it would be the Giro. The Giro is becoming more popular with the riders and the fans, I think.
PEZ: Do you think the Vuelta has taken it to far with all the summit finishes, especially at the end of the season?
Yeah, maybe it is. Maybe they could put in more variety in the stages, but I think they tend to go to the style of the Spanish riders maybe.
PEZ: A lot of races have changed for the Sagan, Gilbert style of rider. Sanremo now is not a sprinters race
No, now you have to be more than a sprinter for this race. The organizers want to make the races harder.
PEZ: Is that a good thing? If it suits you, I guess it is.
For me I guess so. They were talking about making the Giro and the Vuelta two weeks races, for me it would be terrible, because the third week is where it happens, everyone is getting tired and that is the point when I am getting strongest. For me harder is better, but I can see why the sprinters don’t like the big tours because there are so many stages that are too hard for them.
PEZ: The Tour this year starts with some flat stages.
I think they see that they don’t have to do it every year, the same as the time trials, this year they only have one time trial in the Tour and so they are not overdoing it.
PEZ: They could have a Paris-Roubaix stage every year.
Yeah, they could, but there is no point in doing it.