Dutchman lies 5th overall ahead of final weekend
Like the footballing equivalent at Ajax Amsterdam, the Rabobank nursery has built up an enviable reputation for developing young talent and the latest starlet off the production line is Wilco Kelderman.
The 21-year-old from Amersfoort entered the professional ranks this season with an already lofty status but he garlanded that standing still further with an assured performance on the Critérium du Dauphiné's time trial stage to Bourg-en-Bresse on Thursday.
At 53.5km in length, the test was easily the longest of Kelderman's career to date, but the Dutchman showed no inhibitions on a course buffeted by stiff winds. Rather than feel his way tentatively into his effort, Kelderman roared off the start ramp and his audacity was rewarded with a fine fourth place finish, 1:26 behind Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
"That was a solid time trial today, there was no way of bluffing it or fluking it," Wiggins said admiringly of Kelderman afterwards. "It was a real test."
Kelderman earned the white jersey of best young rider for his efforts, and as he prepared to start stage 5 on Friday, he admitted to Cyclingnews that his expectations before the Bourg-en-Bresse time trial were deliberately modest.
"I really didn't expect it. It was my first time to do such a long distance in a time trial," Kelderman said. "I'd hoped for top 30, so it was really special to finish 4th.
"I started off really fast and I managed to hold the rhythm a little bit. It was dangerous sometimes with the crosswinds but it was a really good time trial for me."
While much of the buzz whipped up by Kelderman's under-23 career rested on his talents as a climber, he still boasted a string of strong time trial results in 2011, including victory in the prologue of the Tour de l'Ain – incidentally, at Bourg-en-Bresse.
"This was a very different kind of time trial though, it was very long," Kelderman told Cyclingnews. "Two weeks ago I was 27th in the time trial in California, so that's already a big difference. So I'm hopeful I can keep doing as well in the next time trials."
Tour of California
Indeed, Kelderman's 7th place overall finish at the Tour of California may already have marked something of a watershed moment in his fledging career. "In the beginning, it's really hard to get results," he said. "As a young rider, you're not strong enough to cope with the distances especially, and the long stage races. But now I'm feeling better in the races and I'm starting to ride for results."
Impressive though his Californian display was, the Dauphiné marks a perceptible leap in quality as he faces a peloton replete with riders preparing to do battle at the Tour de France. "It's a really high level, there are a lot of really great riders here – that's the big difference between California and this," he said.
A low-key start on a rainy morning outside the Mavic factory in Saint-Trivier-sur-Moignans may seem a million miles from the bright lights and baying crowds of the Tour de France in July, but the Dauphiné has a proud history of providing a launch-pad for future Tour contenders.
Understandably, Kelderman insists that he is still some way off fostering that kind of aspiration and his Grand Tour debut will wait until 2013 at the very earliest – "maybe the Giro or the Vuelta" – but he is not without ambition for the remainder of the Dauphiné.
"Ah, I hope to defend the white jersey," he said. "It's going to be really hard with guys like Tejay [Van Garderen] so close, but I hope to hold it. It's all new for me. This is a big race with all the really good riders for the Tour de France, so we'll see."