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Dutch preparing for Giro d’Italia invasion

Four top riders from The Netherlands will compete at the Italian grand tour in May.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The Netherlands’ chances of winning its first grand tour in 27 years are increasing with four stars planning to race the 2017 Giro d’Italia this May.

Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL – Jumbo), Tom Dumoulin, Wilco Kelderman (both Sunweb), and Bauke Mollema (Trek – Segafredo) have all signed on for the Italian grand tour.

Kruijswijk led the race in 2016 until he crashed into a snowbank on the top of the Colle dell’Agnello. Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) rode away and took the pink jersey, securing his second title the day after.

“I only saw him at the Giro,” Nibali said. “He went very well at the Giro, there was no doubt about that. He reached a high level, let’s see if he can repeat it in 2017.

“He has the best chances in the Giro out of the Dutch, given how close he came in 2016, but the problem is now we will mark him closely.”

Kruijswijk slid to fourth overall. Had he held on, he would have been the first Dutchman to win the Giro d’Italia. Erik Breukink raced to second place in 1988.

“Every moment from now on is centered on that great goal, the Giro,” explained Kruijswijk. “We will do everything to be at the start in top form.”

Joop Zoetemelk was the last Dutchman to win a grand tour, the 1980 Tour de France.

Some have come close since. Mollema delivered a surprise ride last year in the Tour when he sat second overall for six days behind Froome. He slipped to 11th by the race’s end.

Dumoulin rode a steady Vuelta in 2015. He won two stages and held the overall lead until the final mountain day, when Fabio Aru attacked with his rivals to take the red jersey.

In 2016, Dumoulin devoted himself to the Olympic time trial but still managed a time trial win in the Giro and a mountaintop victory in the Tour. The 2017 season will be different for him, starting with a planned general classification ride in the Giro.

“The Giro is my main goal this year,” Dumoulin said at the Sunweb team presentation.

“It’s harder than the Tour, but with so many top riders at the Tour, I think my chances are better at the Giro than the Tour.”

The Dutch add their names to a growing list of favorites scheduled for the May 5-28 Giro. Italian stars Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain – Merida) and Fabio Aru (Astana) will race, while Sky’s Mikel Landa and 2014 winner Nairo Quintana of Movistar will likely be there too.

The race is celebrating the 100th edition with a route that starts in Sardinia, hops over to Sicily, and travels north to the Alps. It is mostly “Made in Italy” except for a short, 15-kilometer stretch in Switzerland.

Giro organizer RCS Sport, however, has a strong relationship with the Dutch. The race has started in The Netherlands three times: 2002 (Groningen), 2010 (Amsterdam), and 2016 (Apeldoorn). Bradley Wiggins and Dumoulin won the time trials at the 2010 and 2016 Dutch starts.

The 2016 start brought thousands of Dutch fans to the side of the road and increased interest in the race. Dumoulin’s ride helped and so did Kruijswijk’s later in the race. Dutch media arrived in the final week expecting the country’s first Giro win and a grand tour bridge to Zoetemelk. Now, with four Dutch stage race stars ready, that grand tour win could come in May.