Kruijswijk Stretches Lead, Valverde Gets His Maiden Giro Win

Milan, May 24, 2016 (AFP) – Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk moved closer to a history-making Giro d’Italia triumph Tuesday after stretching his lead over Esteban Chaves and Vincenzo Nibali in a thrilling 16th stage won by Alejandro Valverde.

Kruijswijk, of the Lotto team, started the hilly 132 km race from Bressanone to Andalo with a 2min 12sec lead on Colombian Chaves (Orica) and 2:51 on 2013 champion and pre-race favourite Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).

Kruijswijk didn’t have enough in the tank to stop Movistar team leader Valverde, 36, from claiming his maiden stage win on the race after a two-up sprint at the finish.

After leaving Nibali nearly five minutes in his wake however, he said: “I wanted to give my team a win but it’s an ideal situation for the pink jersey as I’m now three minutes ahead of Esteban Chaves and the others.”

On his Giro debut, Movistar leader Valverde has done better than expected as years of racing experience, and good legs, came to the fore for the Spaniard when he launched a telling attack inside the final 15 km.

“It’s a good day for me as I move up in the overall standings, although I wanted a stage win as a gift for the mechanics, soigneurs, directors, my family… all the people who have helped me overcome the day I had on Saturday because of the altitude,” said Valverde.

“We wanted to break the race up today. It’s a great feeling to win for the first time at the Giro.”

Chaves crossed the finish line 42secs in arrears, with Nibali finishing nearly two minutes behind alongside compatriot Domenico Pozzovivo.

Chaves remains second but is 3:00 behind Kruijswijk, with Valverde moving up to third at 3:23 and Nibali, the 2014 Tour de France champion, dropping one place to fourth at 4:43.

Italian champion Nibali had been at the forefront all day but came up short on the final climb, the Fai della Paganella, following an attack by Valverde.

There were only 15 kms remaining and Kruijswijk was quickly on to the Spaniard’s wheel. Nibali, by this time, had used up most of his fuel. He was dropped back to a chasing group that contained Chaves.

Nibali has now lost time to Kruijswijk on the past two stages having been only 41secs behind the Dutchman after Saturday’s ‘Queen Stage’ in the Dolomites mountains.

Kruijswijk, meanwhile, keeps going from strength to strength.

“I was feeling really good so I had to make the best of this short but really hard stage,” he added.

“I had to follow Nibali when he attacked early in the stage. I didn’t expect so much action the day after the rest day.”

A day after Nibali promised to bite into his deficit, ‘Lo Squalo’ (The
Shark) will now look to recover on stages 17 and 18 before the race for the pink jersey resumes in earnest with two big days in the mountains on Friday and Saturday.

Alejandro Valverde – Quotes:
“It was an amazing victory. We came to the start fully focused, knowing that it was going to be a really demanding stage for us. We had already inspected it back in March, the three of us – Chente, Andrey and myself. The team worked their hearts out to go for victory today and tear the peloton apart. We really dug deep for the victory, we put all means we had to claim it. The split wasn’t forming up into the first ascent, and the race leader and other rivals were insisting a lot. Happily, we were able to open that gap just before the end of the ascent, with Kruijswijk and without Chaves. We went ahead, pulling all the way to the foot of Fai della Paganella – I think we did a great job, all of us up there.

“I don’t think it was a really bad day for Nibali. He was keeping up with us all the time during the break and had everything under control. It was just that I attacked into the final ascent, so I could keep the gap against Chaves and reduce the field ahead – those kilometers alone might have costed him a lot. Seeing Kruijswijk doing that well wasn’t a surprise to me, either when he took the leader’s jersey. He’s been already showing for years he can cope well with the Giro, he was arguably the strongest into the final week last season, and this year, he came here with all willingness to win the race. We three, Steven, Zakarin and Myself, insisted until the very end so we could keep that gap. That brought me the win.

“I already stated during the rest day that my bad day on Saturday was just a consequence of riding in altitude for so long, so many kilometers above 1,700, 1,800 meters. We got through the day as good as we could and later on, we saw at the mountain TT that my physical condition was still near optimal. We just had to go for it today, breaking the peloton into pieces – and we succeeded. The team was phenomenal. I want to thank all of them -mechanics, carers, riders, sports directors- for their dedication. This is a tribute to them, also for my family, my kids and all the fans.
“It’s true that Kruijswijk’s only weak point so far is his team. Even though we tried to isolate him today, he reacted fantastically well. However, the Giro is far from over. Many demanding stages are left, including Friday and Saturday. We must, however, enjoy today’s win, and also the podium, which makes the final result even better.”

1. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Movistar Team 2hr 58min 54sec,
2. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) same time,
3. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) at 8secs,
4. Diego Ulissi (ITA/LAM) 37,
5. Bob Jungels (LUX/ETI) s.t.,
6. David Lopez Garcia (ESP/SKY) 38,
7. Sergey Firsanov (RUS/GAZ) s.t.,
8. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI) 42,
9. Rafal Majka (POL/TIN) 50,
10. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/A2R) 1min 47sec

1. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) 63hr 40min 10sec,
2. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI) at 3min 03sec,
3. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 3:23,
4. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) 4:43,
5. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 4:50,
6. Rafal Majka (POL/TIN) 5:34,
7. Bob Jungels (LUX/ETI) 7:57,
8. Andrey Amador (CRC/MOV) 6:53,
9. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/A2R) 10:05,
10. Kanstantsin Siutsou (BLR/DDA) 11:03

Photo: Corvos