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Giro d'Italia

Bouwman puts back problem behind him to close on Giro d’Italia’s mountains jersey

After spending two consecutive mountain stages in the break, Jumbo-Visma’s Koen Bouwman has the climbers’ title in his sights despite a back issue he blamed on riding his aero bike

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APRICA, Italy (VN) – After the disappointment of seeing GC leaders Tom Dumoulin and Tobias Foss fail to sustain a challenge for top honors, Jumbo-Visma has managed to salvage its Giro d’Italia thanks to Koen Bouwman, who won the stage into Napoli and has since used that success as a springboard towards the mountain competition, in which he’s established a clear lead after spending two successive mountain stages in the break.

Speaking to VeloNews just prior to the start of the 16th stage between Salò and Aprica, the 28-year-old Dutch rider said his aim was to defend the blue climbers’ jersey by trying to infiltrate the day’s escape, but admitted that he had a nagging doubt due to a back problem that had developed on Sunday’s stage into Cogne.

Read also: Giro d’Italia stage 7: Koen Bouwman wins from remnants of break to take first grand tour stage win

The first man over the first of three climbs that day, Bouwman dropped back on the second, the Verrogne, revealing later that his back had started to hurt on the previous descent.

“I’ve some problems before with my back. It was one of my weakest points,” Bouwman said. “I think I know what the problem was. I rode an aero bike on the first half of the stage. I think it was the wrong decision in the end.”

The Jumbo rider said he’d had his back treated by the team’s osteopath after that stage and again on the rest day.

“It’s been treated well for two days and I don’t have any problems now,” he said. “Yesterday on the bike, it felt good, so let’s hope it’s good today as well.

“I have to put all of my energy into being in the break and it’s not going to be easy. The last couple of days it took a really long time before the break went and it went with crazy speeds. In the end, there’s also a bit of gambling required. I just hope I gamble right today.”

As it turned out, Bouwman’s suspicion that there would be a frantic battle to get into the break proved correct. But he didn’t realize his ambition to be in it, at least not initially.

“I went all out on the first climb to bridge to the front group and I was actually on the limit for almost the whole climb,” he explained at the finish in Aprica.

“In the sprint for the points I was a bit surprised by Giulio Ciccone and made a small mistake, although I don’t know if I could have beaten him anyway. Then, in the valley, we rode away with six or eight guys without Ciccone, so that was actually perfect for me. On the Mortirolo I scored maximum points and in the final I decided with the sports directors that if I was strong enough to go for the stage then I would try it, but I felt that I wasn’t the strongest in the group and on the really steep parts of the Santa Cristina I decided to drop back.”

The Dutchman revealed that his back was another reason for him not trying to contest the stage win in Aprica.

“It was actually a lot better than before the rest day, but I can still feel it now at the end of the stage, so that was also a reason why I dropped back,” he said. “I wasn’t the strongest anymore and I didn’t want to push it to the limit with my back. So tonight, I’ll go again to the osteopath, have a good massage and I’ll be ready for tomorrow when I’ll try to go in the break again.”

His goal, of course, is to reach Verona in blue on Sunday.

“It will be a very special achievement if I can do that,” he said. “My Giro is already a big success with the stage win and this will be a really big bonus. I will do everything to get this jersey into Verona.”