How Steven Kruijswijk’s winter training turned him into a Giro d’Italia contender

LottoNL-Jumbo's Giro d'Italia leader Steven Kruijswijk has worked hard on becoming a more explosive climber over the winter and it's certainly paying off

Steven Kruijswijk’s new-found burst of speed is winning him the Giro d’Italia this month, according to his LottoNL-Jumbo team.

The Dutchman put 2-10 minutes into favourite Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in Sunday’s mountain time trail. With six days to race to Turin on Sunday, he leads with 2-12 over Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) and 2-51 on Nibali.

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The difference, according to his director sportive, is that Kruijswijk is now able to be the attacker in the mountains, rather than reacting to other riders’ attacks like in previous seasons.

“He’s been working with his trainer, they tried to be less diesel and more explosive,” sports director Addy Engels told Cycling Weekly.

“His approach was pretty much the same at altitude, but the biggest difference that I see is that he’s far more explosive than what he used to be. If you look back to previous Giros, he’d lose time when there was an explosive uphill finish in the first week.”

Kruijswijk lost time in the rolling, mid-mountain stages in the opening week last year. He improved, however, as the race went on and placed seventh overall behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff).

The Neunen-born rider was able to gain time back last year by getting out in third-week breakaways and staying with the best climbers on the formidable Alpine mountains, recording several top-five finishes in the final seven stages.

“He always improved in the race [last year] and competed with the best in the last week, but he’d lost already too much beforehand,” Engels added. “The big difference this year is that he’s at his top level from the start, more explosive and better able to respond to attacks.”

Who is Steven Kruijswijk?

He is now leading the way and shaking cycling’s hierarchy with another fresh faced cyclist, Chaves. In the Giro’s 14th stage through the Dolomites on Saturday, he attacked with Chaves and dropped Nibali to take over the race leader’s pink jersey. Not only Nibali, but other established cyclists Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale) faded.

“I don’t care about that. If it’s a shake up to the hierarchy or not, I don’t care. We just want to win,” said Engels, who was the sports director at Giant-Alpecin when Tom Dumoulin broke through at the Vuelta a España last year.

“I didn’t predict this, to be honest, but for sure it’s good for cycling what happened last year at the Vuelta a España and what we see now. The more faces we see on this level the better. But we just want to win. If it’s Chaves, Nibali or Valverde behind, it doesn’t matter that much.”

Last year, Astana and its leader Fabio Aru overhauled Dumoulin in the last mountain day to win the Vuelta. The same threat, again with Astana and again with a Dutchman, exists in the Giro.

“Nibali is a scary guy. It’s Nibali. I’m very happy that we took a big win [in the time trial]. I didn’t expect that, as well. It’s very satisfying, but it’s still Nibali. It’s still one week to go and it’s still Astana on our heels.”