CASSANO D’ADDA, Italy (VN) — The scenario at the end of the Giro d’Italia is eerily similar to last year’s Vuelta a España. With just a few key mountain stages remaining, there is a surprise Dutchman wearing the leader’s jersey, fighting off a pack of Italian and Spanish climbers, and hoping to pull off a highly unexpected and historic grand tour victory.
There is one major difference between Tom Dumoulin in last year’s Vuelta, and Steven Kruijswijk in this year’s Giro. Kruijswijk shows no signs of cracking.
“There are some similarities,” said LottoNL – Jumbo sport director Addy Engels. “They both held the leader’s jersey in the last week of a grand tour, and it’s also unexpected. Tactically, the big difference is that Steven is a stronger climber. Last year, Tom lost time on every major climb, and this Giro, Steven is the strongest climber in the peloton.”
Engels has a very interesting perspective. Last year, he was Dumoulin’s sport director at Giant – Alpecin before he switched to LottoNL – Jumbo over the winter. He had a front-row seat to Dumoulin’s implosion in the Vuelta’s last major mountain stage, eventually settling into sixth. Engels is confident the scene won’t repeat itself with Kruijswijk.
“Tom was always fighting to limit the losses on every climbing stage,” Engels said at the team bus Wednesday morning. “In this Giro, Steven is following the best riders, and he’s one of the strongest climbers in the race. That’s a big difference.”
Another key contrast between Dumoulin’s Vuelta and Kruijswijk’s Giro is their respective leads. Last year, Dumoulin rolled into the final stage with a slender, three-second gap, while Kruijswijk has three minutes on second-place Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge) with four stages left to go. That huge gap gives Kruijswijk a lot of room to play with.
“That is very important,” Engels continued. “Steven can ride defensively, and follow the best riders. We have to stay sharp, and watch our rivals.”
With a trio of strong performances in the key stages across the Dolomites, Kruijswijk is in the driver’s seat of this Giro. With only Thursday’s transition stage on tap before the final showdown in the Alps, his confidence is growing by the day. Despite having never led a major grand tour in his life, the 28-year-old is handling it with aplomb.
“He is handling it very well. He is staying cool,” Engels said. “There was some tension [Tuesday], because it was the day after a rest day, and no one knows how they will react, and we knew it would be an explosive stage. Otherwise, he is very calm. In the team meetings and in the race, he is handling it like he’s been wearing the pink jersey for the 10th time. For the first time in this situation, he has a lot of composure.”
After Kruijswijk stood up to the attacks in Tuesday’s explosive stage, his major rivals have all but surrendered hope of knocking him off. Engels said the team is confident that the Giro will soon be theirs, and they will not repeat the Dumoulin collapse from last year’s Vuelta.
No Dutchman has ever won the Giro and only two have won grand tours. In fact, it’s been nearly 36 years since a Dutch rider won a grand tour, with Joop Zoetemelk winning the 1980 Tour de France. Zoetemelk also won the 1979 Vuelta a España, while Jan Janssen won the 1967 Vuelta and 1968 Tour.
Just like last year with Dumoulin, there’s growing anticipation and excitement that the Netherlands will soon claim another grand tour. Everyone is hoping for a different ending.
Last year, Engels admitted it was a letdown when Dumoulin couldn’t hold off Astana’s Fabio Aru to win the Vuelta, but said things are looking much better for Kruijswijk in this Giro.
“Last year, it was a nice surprise with Tom to ride so well in the Vuelta, and for him to lose it on that last big stage of course was a disappointment,” Engels said. “With Steven, we have two more hard stages, but if we don’t win now, it will be because we lose it.”