Despite starting the Tour de Suisse with just 11 days of racing in his legs Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) continues to impress with a valiant display on the first mountain stage of the race. The Dutchman finished fourth, in the same time as stage winner Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), to move up to third overall, 20 seconds down on Richie Porte's (BMC Racing) overall lead.
Kelderman was supported by several teammates on the final climb to the summit at Leukerbad, with teammate Sam Oomen also making the main GC group that splintered off the front of the peloton in the closing stages. Kelderman and Oomen remained in contention when Mikel Landa launched a dangerous attack 6.8km from the summit and were still well-placed when the leaders caught Landa with the line in sight.
Kelderman may have been edged out for the win and the resulting bonus seconds on offer for the top three, but after a hiatus from racing due to injury he was only looking on the positive side.
"This was a good test but it was a full headwind on the climb and also not that hard. It was still a big group but it was a good test. I felt good all day and in the final so that's a confidence boost for me," he said at the line.
In his post-race press conference, Porte named Kelderman as one of his most dangerous riders. With two more mountain stages and the 34km time trial around Bellinzona to come. The Dutchman was quick to play down his chances of overall success here at Suisse, owing to both his break from racing and the fact that the Tour de France remains his main focus.
Kelderman finished second at the Abu Dhabi Tour in February, a result that followed on from his breakthrough finish at last year's Vuelta a España where he took fourth overall. He was in form at Tirreno-Adriatico in March of this year, taking three top-10s before two crashes on stage 5 left him with a broken collarbone.
He still suffers from nerve damage as a result of the crashes, hence the long break from racing, but his training over the last few weeks has gone well. A stint at altitude provided the chance to build up the miles, although he admits that his top-end speed is still to come.
"It's like the good form that I had in Tirreno and then I will build further towards the Tour. I was just caught on the line but I don't know about GC. I think top-10 for sure but I don't know. Top three is possible and the parcours suits me this year, also with the time trial. We'll see," he said.
"For sure I'm pleased with this after the break. On the first stage, I didn't feel so good. I did a lot of training but not really hard efforts. Back in racing, it's a lot harder."
Oomen sits second on GC, at the same time as Kelderman. The younger of the two enjoyed a successful ride at the Giro d'Italia, where he finished inside the top 10 and helped Tom Dumoulin claim second overall.
At the start of the race, Oomen told Cyclingnews that he was at Suisse only because Lennard Kamna was still suffering from illness and injury. Kelderman remains the team's GC hope for the Tour de Suisse but the team now have two cards to play for the top 10.
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