Robert Gesink leads Blanco Pro Cycling’s challenge at Paris-Nice this week but it was his young teammate Wilco Kelderman who turned heads in the opening prologue around Houilles, finishing fourth, just two seconds off winner Damien Gaudin (Europcar).
Still only 21 years of age, Kelderman has already set about building a reputation for himself as a solid climber and an especially fine time triallist. He demonstrated his abilities in the longer form of the discipline at last year’s Critérium du Dauphiné, when he finished 4th in the 50km time trial at Bourg-en-Bresse, and he showed that he is scarcely lacking over shorter distances in the outskirts of Paris on Sunday.
No fewer than 13 corners were shoehorned into the technical 2.9 kilometre course, but Kelderman put together an assured performance on the short but sharp test to stop the clock in a shade under 3:40. That was enough to top the leader board for much of the afternoon and while his time would eventually fall just short, he had the consolation of taking possession of the white jersey of best young rider.
“I won the prologue at the Tour de l’Ain in 2011 when I was with the Rabobank Continental, and that was a very short time trial too, so I knew that I could go really well today,” Kelderman told Cyclingnews after descending from the podium.
Before the season began, Kelderman told Cyclingnews that he was looking to be at his best for three WorldTour races in the opening half of the season – the Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice and the Giro d’Italia, where the second-year professional will make his Grand Tour debut.
Kelderman was as good as his word in Australia in January, finishing sixth overall and helping teammate Tom Jelte Slagter claim final victory, and the Dutchman is hopeful that he can deliver a similar showing in France this week. He was, however, careful to insist that his primary duty would be to shepherd Gesink, who also gained time on a number of general classification rivals by placing 19th at six seconds.
“The most important thing is to help Robert for the podium and then we’ll see what I can do,” Kelderman said. “It might be that I’m really good and can also ride for the top ten myself, but the first and most important thing is Robert.”
Like many, Kelderman believes Thursday’s summit finish at Montagne de Lure will provide the first major shake-up of the general classification but expects that the race should ultimately be decided on the Col d’Éze. The famous climb overlooking Nice ought to suit a rider with Kelderman’s skill set, but he was coy about his prospects next Sunday.
“I’m not really familiar with Col d’Éze to be honest, but we’ll see in a week how good I am,” he said.
Regardless, Kelderman and Blanco enter the week determined to continue the remarkable run of early-season form that has seen the team clock up 10 wins to date. Following Rabobank’s withdrawal in October, the Dutch squad must find a new title sponsor in order to ensure its existence beyond the end of 2013 but that pressure has proved a motivation rather than a burden thus far.
“The morale is really, really good in the new team, we have come in to this race in good shape,” Kelderman said. “We’d like to try and take a stage win first and then see how things lie in the general classification later in the week.”