The 22-year-old finished 17th in this year’s race despite riding in the services of Robert Gesink for the opening two weeks. That result, coupled with his consistent performances in the Tour Down Under (sixth), the Tour of Romandie (fifth) and the overall title in the Tour of Denmark have led to Belkin serving up the talented rider from Utrecht with the chance to shine in Italy once again.
“I get a free role for the Giro and can ride for myself. I think a few other guys will ride for me too. I hope I can come close or be in the top 10,” he told Cyclingnews at his team’s training camp in Spain.
“That would make me really happy. There will be lots of really good riders there with Quintana and maybe Rodriguez there but the field will be very strong.”
“The parcours will be hard and like this year there will be lots of hard stages in the final week. There are some really steep climbs in that final week, they might not be that good for me. I’m more a time trialist than a real climber. My climbing is getting better as I get older and increase my power but I’m not a climber like [Vicenzo] Nibali or [Joaquim] Rodriguez, and I like to ride climbs at one pace, at a stable tempo.”
Kelderman will alter his race programme slightly for 2014. The Tour Down Under will be replaced by a start in the Tour of Algarve, with Paris-Nice, a possible start in one of the Ardennes Classics and the routine trip to Romandie thrown in. There’s also talk of a slot in the Vuelta, which would mark the Dutchman’s first tilt at two grand tours in a single season.
“I hope to just be consistent in the season with top 10s, maybe in races like Catalunya and Paris-Nice,” he said rather modestly.
“Each year I try and improve and the long-term plan is to be up there with the big riders in the coming years.”
It has been a rather swift rise for Kelderman, who has enjoyed a successful career since his junior days when he was already beating riders who were older and more experienced. A win in the Tour Alsace in 2010 was backed up by wins in the Tour of Norway and Thüringen-Rundfahrt, U23, Germany in 2011, but 2012, his first year in the professional ranks saw his promise bloom.
It led to the inevitable comparisons with the Dutch champions in previous generations but Kelderman appears not to worry about the pressure, comparing himself to the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans with assured ease rather than arrogance or trepidation.
“I’ve not changed really. I like riding for results and want to become a top rider but for me the pressure isn’t a massive problem. Here are the team we’ve got Mollema and Gesink, guys like that, and they’re better than me so it means I’m more in their shadow.”
With Belkin set to utilise Mollema and Gesink in tandem at the Tour de France, Kelderman will be tasked with the responsibility of leading the line in Italy. He will be 23 by the time he lines up in Ireland for the start of the race and while Quintana, Rodriguez and Richie Porte will likely battle for the top honours, Kelderman could be there or thereabouts as he aims for a top ten place overall.
“This year’s Giro was a good result for me given that in the first two weeks I used up a lot of energy riding for Robert Gesink,” he told Cyclingnews.
“After the day Robert lost time, the day on the Galibier, that was a day I attacked and was the first day I could ride for myself. The day after I got in the early break as well.”
“If I’d been riding for myself then maybe I could have been around 15th but the gaps in the top 20 were pretty big. It was a case of riding my race but the guys like Nibali were too strong. Still in the last week I felt really good. After the day I was in the early break I still felt strong.”
“The toughest part was probably the mental aspect. The first two weeks flew by but the last week is just so taxing and especially with the weather. You have to stay focused all the time and that was the toughest part. The weather was tough but I’d had something similar at Catalunya in an earlier season. It was snowing and the weather was awful and so cold on the downhill. Everyone was screaming to slow down but everyone kept riding. So when it was bad at the Giro I could draw on that experience and knew I could do it.”
Coincidently the Giro will take on another relevance for Kelderman and his career as 2014 marks the final year of his current deal with Belkin. For now the focus remains on results and racing, but he admits that one day he could ride for a team outside of Holland.
“Yeah of course. Maybe in the next few years I could ride for another team. I’ve not had any approaches yet. I want to first focus on the Giro.”