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Kruijswijk returns to form ahead of pink jersey bid

The Belkin rider suffered from a leg problem but is climbing his way back to grand tour shape

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PONTIAN, Malaysia (VN) — Steven Kruijswijk (Belkin) is heading toward a Giro d’Italia return. After placing eighth in 2011 and suffering leg problems, he said he feels back on track.

“The mountain stage two days ago in the Tour de Langkawi was a good test, especially with a long uphill finish,” he told VeloNews. “I had to go deep and that allowed me to see if the operation succeeded or not. So far, it feels quite good and I hope it only improves toward the Giro.”

Doctors operated on the groin artery leading to his leg at the end of last season. It forced the 26-year-old Dutchmen off the bike to recover for 10 weeks. After a slow build up, a seventh-place finish on the Genting Highlands in Sunday’s stage 4 confirmed his progress.

“One leg received less oxygen and the blood was not flowing so well, so my left leg wasn’t working and I had less power. I missed the last few percentages that you need to be at the top,” Kruijswijk said.

“It slowly comes about. You have to see how to fix your problems. You can still race but it doesn’t feel as it should. After some research, we found out what was the problem. You have to decide if you want to have surgery or not.”

Dennis Van Winden underwent the same surgery and nearly had to stop. He told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that the problems worsened so much afterward that he felt like cutting off his leg. He overcame them and returned, racing at Kruijswijk’s side in Malaysia’s Tour de Langkawi. Kruijswijk recovered quicker and placed in the top 10 on the 1,600-meter climb to Genting Highlands on Sunday.

The Langkawi bodes well for the Giro d’Italia in May. He placed eighth after the disqualification of Alberto Contador three years ago and third overall in the Tour de Suisse one month later. The last two years, however, he suffered. He was 26th in 2013.

For a rider who considers himself in the Dutch stage racer group with Robert Gesink, Bauke Mollema, and Wilco Kelderman, the result was not what he wanted.

“The first step is to get back to the level I was before; that means that a top-15 or top-10 result,” Kruijswijk said. “I want to see if I can be up with the guys on the big hilly stages. I’ve done a top 10 once before. I think I still have it. So it’s up to me to show it.”

Belkin will decide its nine-man roster for the Italian grand tour, which runs May 9 to June 1, around late April. Kruijswijk and the 22-year-old Kelderman, however, already received the green light to lead the green and black team.

“We are not the top favorites and we don’t have to carry the race,” Kruijswijk said. “I marked the big stages in my head, like the Stelvio and Zoncolan, those days are the days that I have to perform.”