With a fourth-place result in stage 16 time trial, Steven Kruijswijk is head and shoulders above rival climbers and gaining ground.
The Dutchman hammered time into his diminutive rival climbers to jump from fifth to third overall. In Torrelavega, just inland from the Costa Verde, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) kept his red jersey but he and others like Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Miguel Angel López (Astana) took a beating by Kruijswijk.
“Well yes, I think looking at the results,” Kruijswijk agreed when someone said it was the best time trial of his life.
“I was hoping for a good time trial and the first part was really good but I felt that I started a little bit too fast when I saw that first intermediate time. From that point, it was more about not winning the time trial, which was aiming too high, but defending my GC position and perhaps getting some places. When you see this result you can be happy with it.”
He now sits 52 seconds back in third overall behind Yates. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is second overall at 33 seconds.
The power move continues a wave of success for the Dutch team in yellow. Its riders won stages in the Tour de France with sprinter Dylan Groenewegen. Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), who soloed to win on the mountain stage to Laruns, placed fourth overall ahead of Kruijswijk in fifth.
In the meantime, Sepp Kuss (LottoNL-Jumbo) won on home soil in the U.S. at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. Kuss came to Spain and turned his attention to the classification leaders Kruijswijk and George Bennett. Bennett faded, but Kruijswijk appears on target after a successful Tour.
“Yes so far so good and I’m happy with that,” Kruijswijk said of the Tour. “And we planned that this winter as well and now we know this is possible, so it’s nice to know.”
However, so far Kruijswijk has been unable to answer all the kicks of the better climbers in the Vuelta. He has not lost much, but in a game of seconds, he has lost enough. The time trial could change the outlook, which will be clearer after a tough stage through the Basque country on Wednesday.
“There are still hard days to come and until now the other guys have been a little bit better. This time trial helped me take time back and hopefully I can keep doing the same in the next days,” he said.
“It’s hard to say because you saw this last weekend that the gaps are very close so I think it’s about making sure you don’t have a bad day and then maybe try to surprise the other guys the next weekend to come [in Andorra].”
Kruijswijk knows the teeter-totter business of cycling well. He looked poised to win the 2016 Giro d’Italia, but in the pink jersey crashed into a snow bank at the top of the Agnello pass. It opened the door for Vincenzo Nibali to win the race two days later. Now maybe he could finally reach the podium in a grand tour or even take the top step.