Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) is no longer cycling’s nearly man.
After knocking on the grand tour podium door the past several seasons, the ever-steady Dutch climber finally gets his just rewards. Jumbo-Visma piled it on during Saturday’s weather-shortened final mountain stage and efficiently eliminated French hope Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) on the grinding climb to Val Thorens.
Kruijswijk followed the train all the way to the misty mountain tops in the French Alps. On Sunday, he’ll stand on the podium for the first time in a grand tour with third overall.
“This was our main goal at the beginning of the Tour and yesterday and today didn’t make it easier that the stages were shortened,” Kruijswijk said. “We kept on fighting because we felt the podium was possible. This is a big relief.”
The Tour podium is a long time coming for the 32-year-old Kruijswijk, who’s been a pro since 2010. His big diesel engine often put him in contention for podiums and stage wins, yet he typically lacked the explosiveness to be first over the line or the punch to hit the podiums. In 15 grand tour starts, this will be Kruijswijk’s seventh career top 10. But he’s never been as high as this one. The view from the Paris podium — barring disaster in Sunday’s finale — on the Champs-Élysées will be sweet indeed.
“I believed before the start of the Tour I could be on the podium,” he said. “I have shown the last few years I am always there in the grand tours, for three years. I always kept believing and working with the last few months with the idea to be at my best.”
It’s been a slow road to reach the Tour podium for Kruijswijk. He was already seeing hype when he turned pro in 2010 with some promising early results. His big breakout came during the 2016 Giro d’Italia. If it wasn’t for his ill-timed crash into a snowbank, Kruijswijk might have won that Giro. Instead, he limped into Torino in fourth overall just off the elusive podium. Rather than become frustrated or lose ambition in light of the late-race collapse, Kruijswijk found optimism in the fact that he nearly won the Giro.
Since then, he’s been one of the most consistent grand tour performers. Jumbo-Visma showed confidence in its ever-improving captain, and slowly brought on support riders to bolster his chances.
George Bennett and Laurens De Plus proved critical in Kruijswijk’s performance across the Tour. The pair sacrificed their chances throughout the race, and both absolutely buried themselves on the road to Val Thorens to assure Kruijswijk a chance at the podium.
“We took responsibility as a team and felt the podium was within reach,” he said. “We have shown we are able to fight in grand tours. With the team, we put on quite a performance. In the first week with winning for stages, we showed that we are a team for the grand tours.”
Jumbo-Visma was impressive in every facet of the race, and Kruijswijk’s podium is the icing on the cake in what’s been a near-perfect Tour for the team.
The 2019 season certainly sees Jumbo-Visma emerging as one of the deepest and most consistent teams in the grand tours, with firepower across all disciplines. This Tour revealed that mix of depth and diversity on the world stage.
“I think we came in with a lot of goals,” he said. “We showed we are capable of fighting for the grand tours. In the next coming year we really can take the fight on with Ineos to go for a grand tour win.”
Jumbo-Visma was one of the few teams to bring a GC contender as well as a sprinter. With only eight riders per team since last season, most squads tilt one way or the other. Jumbo-Visma won in all terrain. Dylan Groenewegen won stage 7 and will be in the hunt to win in Paris in a repeat of his final-stage victory from two years ago.
Following an impressive Giro d’Italia that included third overall and two stage victories for Primoz Roglic, the team performed even more consistently across the Tour. The team won four stages — one with Groenewegen, others with Mike Teunissen and Wout van Aert as well as the team time trial — held the yellow jersey, and will stand on the podium with third overall. And Groenewegen could well add the cherry to cake on Sunday in the final sprint.
Kruijswijk, who is sometimes chided as being a rider who can only muster enough power to follow the wheels was consistently in the mix in all the key stages. He never lost time, and profited from the team’s win against the clock. Like many diesel-powered climbers, he gives up time in individual time trials, but regained it through brute strength and steady consistency.
Kruijswijk was worried, however, that his podium ambitions might have been short-circuited in rough weather in the final weekend. Friday’s truncated stage due to mudslides, hail, snow, and rain saw Egan Bernal (Ineos) bound into yellow and Saturday’s stage was equally shortened. There was even some talk that the final climb to Val Thorens might have been lowered due to risk of snow and hail.
Luckily for Kruijswijk, the full distance of the final climb was raced, and he could pedal into the Tour’s podium promised land.
“Egan was really strong, and so was Geraint [Thomas],” he said. “It was really hard to beat them. Yesterday was a good decision by the organization, and today there was no other option than to do this. It was exciting for us in the race as well. The podium was still open until the final day.”
It took them long enough but they never panicked. Jumbo-Visma kept chipping away and finally reached a long-held goal for the Dutch-registered outfit.