By Jean-François Quénet in Kuala Lumpur
Bouygues Telecom can be happy with their Dutch recruit at his first appearance at Le Tour de Langkawi. 23 year-old Stef Clement's results in Malaysia included fourth place on Stage 4 to Kuala Selangor and third in yesterday's Melaka time trial. "I came here for preparation," he said.
"It was my goal to take part in a decisive breakaway and do well against the clock. I'm satisfied with my results, although I probably could have finished second in the time trial by riding four seconds faster. Last week, I've lost one of my best friends and my concentration wasn't very good. During the first six kilometres, I didn't cut the curves properly."
The man from Breda, who now spends a lot of time in between races and training camps at the headquarters of Bouygues Telecom in Les Essarts, Vendée, where Tom Boonen won the first road stage at last year's Tour de France, seems happy with his new team. "We've been active every day, going into all the breaks and leading out one sprint for Anthony Ravard. That's the kind of cycling I enjoy."
Clement was hired by team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau who was curious to see what makes Rabobank such an efficient school for young professionals, even though he previously set an unwritten rule that all the neo-professionals for Bonjour, La Boulangère and now Bouygues Telecom had to come from his Vendée U reserve squad.
"Rabobank is an excellent school," Clement confirmed, who is well schooled himself and speaks perfect German, English and French. "It's the best U23 team in the world, as was Mapei before. We have discipline and style. Here, I feel less stress; Bouygues Telecom is a group of friends whereas Rabobank is a team of workers.
"I was told that maybe there would be a contract for me in the Rabobank ProTour team and I may have had to wait for a year, but I didn't want to wait; I asked my manager to look for a French team for me because all the great Dutchmen like Joop Zoetemelk, Hennie Kuiper and Gerrie Knetemann have ridden for French teams in the past."
It has become fashionable in French cycling to sign the young riders that Rabobank couldn't find a place for in their ProTour team. Besides Clement, that's how other time triallists Mathieu Heijboer and Michiel Elijzen have joined Cofidis and Hans Dekkers is now set to sprint for Agritubel. "It's a good thing to mix the styles," Clement reckoned.