Tour of Utah: Reijnen overcomes illness to fight in Salt Lake City sprint

Trek-Segafredo American slowed by a sinus infection before heading to Vuelta a Espana

Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo) came to the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah with high hopes of adding to the stage wins he claimed here in 2015 and 2016, but his plans went awry when he was hit by sinus infection earlier in the week.

The 32-year-old American won the opening stage of the race in 2015 with UnitedHealthcare and returned the following year with Trek-Segafredo to take stage 5 in Bountiful. Reijnen missed the race last year, so after a long spring of working hard for his teammates in Europe, he was looking forward to racing for stage wins in Utah this year.

“I put a lot into preparing for this race because it’s always one that suits me,” Reijnen said. “I definitely came here with intentions of winning a stage, but then I came down with a sinus infection somewhere between the prologue and the first stage. It was really poorly timed, but sometimes that’s life, and I think I had to reset my expectations after that.”

Reijnen finished fifth in the stage 1 bunch kick in Cedar City on a finishing circuit that normally would have suited his skills. He finished 10th in the bunch kick at the end of stage 3 in Layton City as UnitedHealthcare’s Travis McCabe claimed his second stage win of the 2018 race and moved into the record books as the race’s most prolific winner.

Reijnen kicked it up a couple of notches on Friday in Salt Lake City, finishing third to Jasper Philipsen (Hagens Berman Axeon) and McCabe on the difficult urban circuit with an uphill finish. Reijnen finished with the same time as Philipsen and McCabe, but the lead pair had pulled away from Reijnen and the bunch by the line and were clearly a peg above the rest of the sprinters in Utah.

“Today it was clear that I wasn’t sprinting for the win, and that’s really disappointing,” Reijnen said. “But I also wanted to do as much as I could because the guys were really good those first two days looking after me. They put a lot of faith in me even though I was sick, so I tried to pay that back a bit.

“And Gregory Rast just announced his retirement, and he was the last guy there in the front with like 300 metres to go leading out, so it’s really cool. I have a lot of respect for him,” Reijnen said.

A different stage dynamic

Reijnen has raced the Salt Lake City circuit multiple times in his career, first in 2013 and most recently in 2015, when the course was configured in much the same way as this year. The organisers' decision to move the finish line from the top of the course to the lower sections on Main Street made it look even more like a day for the sprinters. The peloton obliged by keeping the breakaway in check all day and then reeling in the last of the escapees within the final kilometre.

“The start/finish line we had today was significantly different and made for a significantly different dynamic than three years ago,” Reijnen explained.

“It was much more punchy, and position was going to matter at least as much if not more.

“I think there was also more motivation from team’s with sprinters to keep things more steady and together,” he said. “We saw some attacks on the last laps, but that was about it. On the previous course there were more opportunities for late attacks, and it was a little bit harder to keep things contained.”

Suffering before riding the Vuelta a Espana

With the race heading into the mountains for Saturday’s queen stage to Snowbird and Sunday’s finale in Park City, Reijnen’s opportunities for a stage win probably ended on Friday afternoon. He’ll soldier through the mountain stages to repay his teammates for their efforts to help him, and then he’ll turn his attention back to Europe and a heavy race programme.

“I actually will leave after this for Hamburg and then the Vuelta,” he said, jokingly adding that he’s “tired of getting beat up on by young guys” in the States.

He’s hoping the sinus infection clears up in time for his next races, and especially for his second start at the Vuelta a Espana after he made his Grand Tour debut there last year.

“The last couple of days I haven’t been feeling worse – at least level or a little bit better, so I’m hoping to come up alright,” he said.

“It’s always disappointing when you have a big goal and it doesn’t go the way you want it to, but I think at these races, too, it’s always exciting to see the young guys coming up. This isn’t the first time Axel’s team has won a stage, so I think it’s neat to see the next generation pushing us old guys.”

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