It’s been a week since we watched Steven Kruijswijk cartwheel into that snow bank on the Colle dell’Agnello. I don’t know about you, but I’m still contemplating the ramifications of that nasty crash.
Sports pundits like myself often ponder what-if scenarios like the one from the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow film “Sliding Doors.” C’mon, I know you’ve seen it.
In some alternative reality, Kruijswijk never crashes, and his bicycle never shoots into the air and kerthumps into the snow. Instead, Kruijswijk simply grabs a handful of brake, skids through that sketchy turn, and continues down the mountain, hot on the heels of Vincenzo Nibali and Esteban Chaves.
What does this world look like for Dutch cycling, for team LottoNL – Jumbo, and, most importantly, for Kruijswijk? I’ve drawn up a scenario below:
- Kruijswijk bends but does not break during the stage 20 climb to Sant’Anna di Vinadio. He cedes time but finishes with a one-minute buffer to Chaves.
- Kruijswijk becomes the first Dutch winner of the Giro. During the final stage, broadcasters endlessly repeat this fact.
- Kruijswijk entered the Giro with 80 to 1 odds on Unibet.com, so the handful of lucky Dutch gamblers who bet on him buy, like, tons of stroopwafels and tulips and wooden shoes and other stereotypically Dutch products.
- The press touts Kruijswijk as proof of Dutch cycling’s Renaissance. Tom Dumoulin almost won last year’s Vuelta, and now Kruijswijk has taken the Giro. Has the Netherlands finally pivoted away from one-day racing? Will a Dutchman win the Tour? From his couch somewhere in France, Joop Zoetemelk scowls angrily.
- How can a small team like LottoNL – Jumbo keep Kruijswijk? His $500,000 salary is bound to double, maybe triple. With a budget of approximately $17 million, the team simply can’t compete with Astana, Sky or Katusha, all of which would love to add a young grand tour winner to their ranks.
- Sky comes in with a pitch. They gave Mikel Landa $2 million, after all, and Landa didn’t even with the Giro. Sky needs another robotic climber to shepherd Chris Froome to the top of the Tourmalet, and Kruijswijk fits the mold. He’s young. He’s hungry. He speaks English. Sky needs to re-sign Wout Poels, Sergio Henao and Nicolas Roche, and someone isn’t coming back. Kruijswijk is a perfect replacement for Roche. How does 1.5 million Euro sound?
- Astana is next to come with an offer. They need someone to fill Nibali’s shoes, after all. Following his disappointing Giro, Nibali is now telling random strangers on the street that he’s joining Hamad al-Khalifa’s team from Bahrain. How does 1.7 million Euro sound?
- The repeated stories around Kruijswijk’s contract negotiation reeks havoc on the world’s spellcheck. Computers everywhere explode due to excessive “j” autocorrects.
- Kruijswijk meets with LottoNL – Jumbo management. As a product of the old Rabobank development team, he’s loyal to the program. But as an athlete, he just can’t leave all of this cash on the table. If they can get to 1.5 million Euro and agree to bring on some climbing talent, he will stay. It’s a tough call for a team that has traditionally targeted the cobbled classics with Sep Vanmarcke.
- Touting Kruijswijk as Dutch cycling’s next Tour de France hope, LottoNL – Jumbo management pitches the country’s largest international brands. They tell the marketing reps that their companies have an opportunity bring their country back to cycling’s pinnacle. Just imagine a Dutch team with Dutch riders winning the Tour de France! Just a few million Euro will buy them entrée into this new era of Dutch cycling.
- At an 11th hour deal, the team brings on new sponsors Royal Dutch Shell, Heineken and Kaas & Co. Stroopwafels. The cash infusion double’s the team’s budget, and Kruijswijk gets his salary. The new team’s kit design combines the Shell logo with beer, and yes, waffles.
- The team cuts Vanmarcke loose, and hires Rafal Majka, Lars Boom, and several other climbers as domestiques. The team refocuses on the grand tours. It hires Dumoulin to be Kruijswijk’s co-leader.
- Kruijswijk wins the Vuelta, finishes on the Tour podium. Every year, he battles against Froome, Quintana and Aru. He becomes a Dutch celebrity, and schoolchildren vote him their favorite athlete of the decade, ahead of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. Participation in Dutch junior cycling skyrockets.
- At his retirement, Kruijswijk knows that Dutch cycling has never been stronger. He opens a bicycle shop near his home in S-Hertogenbosch. Displayed near the entry way is a framed pink jersey.