PEZ Talk: LottoNl-Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk!
Vuelta Rider Interview: Recent years have witnessed a Dutch renaissance in cycling’s Grand Tours, and Steven Kruijswijk has been right at the heart of it. The leader of the LottoNl-Jumbo formation has particularly excelled in the Giro d’Italia. Indeed, but for a catastrophic crash in the snow of Col Agnel, the broad-shouldered Dutchman would surely have won last year’s edition of the race. PEZ-man Daniel Thévenon spoke to Steven in Nîmes before the start of this year’s Vuelta a España.
PEZ: Hi Steven, how is your condition going into the Vuelta? Your performances in recent races such as the Tour of Switzerland (3rd) and the Tour de l’Ain (5th) have been promising.
Steven Kruijswijk: I participated in the Tour of Switzerland right after taking part in the Giro, and after that I went to train in Austria for almost three weeks, before heading for the Tour de l’Ain to get back into the rhythm of competition and prepare for the Vuelta. It all went well and I’m feeling in great shape.
PEZ: What are your objectives in this year’s Tour of Spain? Will you be aiming for overall victory or perhaps a podium finish? Or will you wait to see how it goes and set your objective as the race unfolds?
The aim is the General Classification but it’s a strong field, a lot of guys who took part in the Tour are here. I think that this year the Vuelta will be very hard, especially the last part. We will see, I reckon I will need to wait till half way through the race to really know what I am capable of achieving here. But I will try to fight for the GC, that much is for sure.
Esteban Chaves could be an adversary in la Vuelta
PEZ: Who do you see as the favorite in this year’s Vuelta? Froome’s name is on everyone’s lips but on the other hand riders like Nibali will have had time to rest after the Giro.
Obviously, Froome is the best overall contender here, having won the Tour de France, but the question is how fresh he will be. Nibali’s preparation has been more straightforward, as it is probably easier to ride the Giro and the Vuelta than to enter the Vuelta after taking part in the Tour. Orica has a really strong team here as well, so there is going to be a lot of competition. But anyone can have a bad day and to win the Vuelta you need to be strong in the last week. It is hard to tell who is the favorite at this stage.
PEZ: What do you think of the course? Does it play to your strengths? You tend to do well in the third week of Grand Tours because you have this endurance that allows you to come good at the end, yet there are plenty of uphill finishes in the first two weeks of the Vuelta. What will be your strategy? Will you ride conservatively to preserve your chances before the business end of the race or are we likely to see you go on the attack earlier if the opportunity arises?
I know that the first week will not be by best week, it will be a case of hanging on. But the gaps in the first week are likely to be much smaller than in the third week, since the climbs in the opening part of the race are for the most part steep and short. We’re talking about a 15 minute effort, so there will be gaps but they will not be enormous. It isn’t comparable to the long climbs in the Sierra Nevada at the end of the second week, when fatigue really begins to kick in. My focus is more on the second part of the Vuelta, though of course if you want to feature in the General classification you have to be competitive in the first week as well. For me, it will be damage limitation in the first week. I’m happy to go under the radar while the other favorites do battle and then I hope to emerge when the going really gets tough near the end.
At the finish of stage 3 of the 2016 Vuelta a España in Dumbría on the summit of the Mirador de Ezaro
PEZ: Do you think the Angliru will play an important role in shaping the final rankings? Some people have been playing it down.
Definitely, it’s a very hard climb and it comes on the penultimate stage. It will be the last opportunity to make a difference in the General Classification. This being said, you never know what the time gaps will be by that point in the race so much will depend on that too. But the Vuelta, a bit like the Giro and unlike the Tour, tends to be decided in the final days, so expect fireworks.
PEZ: How about the really steep gradients on climbs such as Los Machucos (28%) or the Angliru (up to 23.5%)? Will those suit you or do you prefer steadier and more even ascents?
As a general rule, I deal well with the strong gradients. We’ve had some of those in the Giro in the past. The advantage of training in Austria is that over there you find some very uneven climbs with significant variations in gradient, not unlike what we will be encountering in this year’s Vuelta. Many of the climbs in Austria present these characteristics, unlike the ones you find in the French Alps. You can lose a lot of time on steep climbs, that much is for sure.
A crash into the snow lost the 2016 Giro d’Italia for Steven Kruijswijk
PEZ: At last year’s Vuelta, after the dangerous finish in Lugo on Stage 5, which saw you crash out of the race, your team complained that the organizers had not done enough to signpost the road furniture in the finale. Safety has long been an issue at the Vuelta: in the past, we’ve seen vehicles obstructing the road and a rogue motorcycle taking out Peter Sagan. Are you worried about the safety of riders at this race and do you trust the organizers to get it right?
I don’t think this is a problem with the Vuelta in particular, it’s a big issue in cycling nowadays more generally. We riders make the race dangerous enough for ourselves, we take risks in the descents, in the sprints. So you don’t want elements from outside the race itself interfering to make it even more dangerous. Last year, the problem was an unmarked bollard in the final two kilometers of the stage and you cannot expect this as a rider. You need to be able to trust that the road will be free and well signposted, especially in the last part of a sprint stage, when you’re riding into a big city. The UCI needs to regulate these things. This being said, you can’t enter a cycling race fretting about your safety. With that mentality, you couldn’t race.
PEZ: Is it difficult riding both the Giro and the Vuelta the same year? How do you train to hit peak condition twice in the season?
This season, I started with quite a light racing schedule. I didn’t go to early stage races such as the Tours of Qatar or Catalonia and I took a long break after the Giro and the Tour of Switzerland. I stayed at home, had a week off the bike, and then slowly ramped things up in training. You need to trust that you can take some rest. Some riders think that you should never go more than two or three days off the bike but this is not my philosophy. You need to be capable of letting go of cycling just to keep your mind fresh and allow your body to load up again. I was at home for weeks on end during the Tour and now I feel pretty fresh going into the Vuelta.
PEZ: Do you watch the races when you are not competing yourself? For instance, did you follow the coverage of the Tour de France?
I was comfortable watching the Tour this summer because I had chosen not to be there, but it is much harder to watch a race if you hoped to take part and weren’t selected or if you start it and then drop out and have to watch the rest of it at home on the television. Sometimes, you feel the need to block it all out.
Giro’15: Contador and Kruijswijk battle it out on the road to Aprica
PEZ: As you know, this year’s Tour of Spain will be Alberto Contador’s last race. What do you think of Alberto and his significance for the sport? And tell us about your own relationship to Alberto.
Alberto is one of the great champions of our time, he has won countless Grand Tours and he started lifting these trophies when he was still very young. He’s a really sociable rider as well and a gentleman during the races. I also like his style of riding. He has a never-say-die attitude and can’t settle for second place. It’s very hard to reach that level and to stay there year after year, with all the pressure from the sponsors and the team, but Contador has managed to achieve that and he performs well throughout the season, from Paris-Nice to the Tour de France, he is always there. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to race against him in the Giro, I really enjoyed it. He’s a great rider. I hope he has a good Vuelta, free of bad luck, because he deserves it.
PEZ: For journalists, the Vuelta is a lot more relaxed than the Tour de France, far less people and far less pressure. Is it the same for the riders or doesn’t it make any difference to you how much media presence there is at a race?
For sure, the Tour is a big race and the sponsor is always keen for us to do well in an event with such a global exposure, but I’m driven by my quest for results so it doesn’t make a huge difference to me. Deep down, it’s about the pressure you put on your own shoulders. I would say that the Vuelta tends to be a bit more relaxed because it’s the end of the season, a lot of teams come here after taking part in the Tour and there is not as much pressure. I think that people are calmer and more laid back in the run-up to the start of the Vuelta.
Robert Gesink and Steven
PEZ: Your friend Robert Gesink is sometimes referred to as ‘the Condor of Varsseveld’. Your friends call you ‘de Kleerhanger’ (‘the coathanger’). Yet, some journalists have also dubbed you ‘the Eagle of Eindhoven’. Were you aware of this nickname and what do you think of it?
That’s right, they call me ‘de Kleerhanger’ because of my wide shoulders. I prefer that nickname. It created itself so it’s nice. I had never heard anyone call me ‘the Eagle of Eindhoven’. Besides, I’m not really from Eindhoven, only the suburbs. But the nicknames are for people on the outside.
Those ‘coathanger’ shoulders