Reijnen to balance Degenkolb duties with own ambitions

American reflects on WorldTour debut season

Twelve months ago Cyclingnews sat down with Kiel Reijnen in a hotel lobby on the outskirts of Benidorm during his first training camp with Trek-Segafredo.

Since then the 30-year-old has made his WorldTour debut, started and finished his first Grand Tour at the Vuelta a Espana and picked up a pocket of top ten finishes in major races. It’s almost a year since our last sit-down interview and we meet Reijnen at the same hotel to look back at his season and his role for next year.

At the end of 2015 Reijnen outlined his aims for his first season at Trek, with gaining experience and being competitive high on his list.

"Did I hold true to my word? I think that I notched a number of top tens that I would love to turn into podiums next year, given the extra experience and added miles that I have in the legs from doing a Grand Tour."

Coming from America

Reijnen was unquestionably a big fish in a small pond when he raced in the US ProContinental ranks but his performances in 2015 were enough for Trek to offer him deserved a two-year contract. The step up to WorldTour is a challenge for any athlete but Reijnen's maturity meant that he came into the higher echelons with a calmer, and more experienced outlook. That resolve was certainly tested at points during 2016.

"The lowest spot was around Suisse. I was tired, the weather was bad and I was just getting my ass kicked. Then the Vuelta was what I expected. It was brutally hard but I was prepared for the races with the help of my coach, Ben Day. But at Suisse we rode on the front for the first day and then I did a lead out on another day. I definitely wasn't the biggest help for those nine days.

"The biggest thing I learned was that even when you feel like crap the end isn't always in sight. You're going to do hard race after race, so mentally you have to say to yourself, 'tough shit, deal with it'. When you do that it's surprising what the body can do. At the Vuelta, in the second week I just felt that I was surviving and then in the final week I started to feel a lot better. The body responds in interesting ways. Racing from Down Under until Suisse, without a break, was tiring. I was a little disappointed with my form at California but on the other hand I think that I needed that block to build the engine up for the second half of the year."

More from the Trek-Segafredo team camp

Reijnen made his 2016 debut at the Tour Down Under and although he didn't pick up a personal result in Australia it wasn't long before he began to find his feet. Eighth on a stage in Ruta del Sol was backed up by another top ten in Catalunya and although his form dipped in the spring, he regained his condition with a stage win at the Tour of Utah and two individual top tens on stages in the Vuelta.

Contador and Degenkolb

With a WorldTour blueprint for next year, Reijnen can take confidence from his first year at Trek. That said, with the team signing Alberto Contador and John Degenkolb, the American is likely to be utilised as a domestique in targeted races. Individual chances will still be up for grabs but Trek-Segafredo's marquee signings mean that the entire team will have new focuses.

"I want to improve next year but that being said there are a lot of changes to the team and I think the idea is to not just be competitive but win all the races that we enter. We've a lot more cards to play," he says.

"I start with Dubai and Abu Dhabi but after that I don't know if it will be the same race programme as in 2016. I might be doing more work for others on the team who have a chance to win but on the other hand, this year I think I was the sprinter they could bring to a climbing race, and the team knew I didn't really need any help. I could suffer through and then have a crack at a stage or two. That's not so important when it's top tens but if I can turn them into podiums, then I'm a more worthwhile card to play. Then at the US races I think I'll get my chances again."

Reijnen likens the signing of Degenkolb to how the team raced for Fabian Cancellara before the Swiss rider's retirement. Both Cancellara and Degonkolb were or are Classics specialists and Trek have put their backing behind the German. Reijnen's climbing acumen and fast finish could see him become the perfect foil for Degenkolb in a number of races.

"When you have a guy who can win it really brings your level up. Strade Bianche was a great example. That was one of my better days on the bike and knowing that Cancellara could win was definitely motivating. I can see a similar scenario with John Degenkolb happening next year. One goal is that I start being used up later and later in races, for someone like John."

While being the dutiful domestique is part and parcel of the job description, Reijnen is still keen to explore his own opportunities next season. If he can turn those top tens into podium places, it could be an entirely different interview this time next year. 

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