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Wilco Kelderman (Belkin)
Dutchman hopes for repeat of Giro and Dauphiné displays in Spain
For Wilco Kelderman (Belkin), the late addition of an array of star names to the field for his debut Vuelta a España is a source of motivation rather than of intimidation. Just 23 years of age and in his third season as a professional, Kelderman’s apprenticeship to date has been a smooth one. A solid 17th in his first Giro d’Italia last year, he followed that up with seventh this time around and – perhaps more impressively – fourth in a full-blooded Critérium du Dauphiné straight afterwards.
Riding the Vuelta was already long pencilled in as part of Kelderman’s progression towards a maiden Tour de France next year. The influx of such quality means that another learning opportunity has developed into something of an honours class.
“It’s always nice to ride with such a good field, I like it,” Kelderman told Cyclingnews in Cadiz, before boarding the Don Juan Carlos I aircraft carrier for Monday’s novel sign in. “It’s something I enjoyed already at the Dauphiné and races like that, I like to ride with the strongest riders in the peloton.”
Kelderman is well placed to rate the contenders for the Vuelta, as he was one of the very few riders to race against almost all of them at the beginning of this summer, having done battle with Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Uran and Fabio Aru at the Giro, and then Contador, Froome and Andrew Talansky at the Dauphiné.
“I think the level was about the same in both races,” Kelderman said. “At the Dauphiné, those guys were also in preparation for the Tour so they weren’t really at 100 per cent there, but the Giro was also at a very high level with Quintana and Aru, so I think it was a little bit the same.”
Kelderman enjoyed a consistent Giro, including 4th place on the tappone to Val Martello, only to show understandable signs of wear in the closing days and slip to seventh overall by the finish in Trieste. Considering his fatigue, he admitted that he was surprised to perform so well in the Dauphiné, where he was the closest to matching Froome and Contador on the Col du Béal.
“After the Giro, I was really tired for a few days, so I just did some easy training and a criterium, and maybe that was a good thing to do,” he said. “The first mountain stage went very well for me but really I never expected it. Although in the Dauphiné the climbs are a little bit less steep than at the Giro, which was also a big difference and I think that helped me.”
Following a hiatus in July, Kelderman returned to action earlier this month with a solid fifth place at the Tour of Utah, although he said that he was unsure how his form in the United States would translate to the white heat of the Vuelta. The climbs are something of an unknown, too, given that Kelderman has raced sparingly in Spain during his short career.
“I hope to do a good GC but I don’t really how good my form is and there are also a lot of good guys here,” he said. “I hope to do a top 15 or a top 10 but we’ll see in the race how good I am. Utah was good but this is a different field, with a lot better riders, so we’ll see in the coming days.
“I don’t know the climbs at the Vuelta at all. I’ve seen the profiles but I still don’t really know what to expect. I’ll go from day to day and when I have good legs I’ll try something. We have also Robert [Gesink] as a good GC rider, so I think we can do something as a team.”
Dutch rider continues with De Lotto and Brand Loyalty
Questions over Kelderman’s team, of course, dominated his period off the bike between the Dauphiné and the Tour of Utah. Already out of contract at the end of the season – Sky and Orica-GreenEdge are understood to have been persistent suitors – Kelderman wavered near the exit in June when Belkin announced its withdrawal from sponsorship.
A little over a month later, however, the Dutch national lottery De Lotto revealed that it would step up to the mark to guarantee the team’s survival in 2015 and 2016, and shortly afterwards, Kelderman confirmed that he would stay put.
“It was a difficult decision,” Kelderman said. “It was not sure if this team was going to continue, so I needed to wait a little bit. But I’m happy to stay now for the next two years. I can still grow in this team, and there are lot of guys around me, good staff and good trainers.”
One man who will no longer be around him is Bauke Mollema, who will ride for Trek Factory Racing next season. Mollema’s departure leaves space for Kelderman to make his Tour de France debut – and lead the team’s general classification challenge – next July.
“I hope to do the Tour next year,” Kelderman said, adding that he would be loath to miss out on a Grand Départ so close to his home in Amersfoort. “The start in Utrecht is near my house so that’s one reason to go, and I’d also like to be able to do my own race a little bit too.”