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Roger Kluge: Leading out Caleb Ewan and dragging him up mountains

Procycling
(Image credit: Bettini Photo / Future Publishing)

Procycling magazine’s 12 days of Christmas revisits some of the highlights from our contributors in the magazine over the last year. Roger Kluge is one of Caleb Ewan’s key lead-out riders and at the Tour de France his main role was to help the Australian win stages. In this entry, he evaluates how the race went and talks about the difficulty of grand tour mountain stages for sprinters.

Roger Kluge is one of Procycling’s 2020 diarists. This article was taken from Procycling magazine issue 274 November 2020.

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I’m satisfied and the team is satisfied with the Tour de France. We had a goal to win a stage, it was pretty simple. And we won two stages. 

I don’t have anything where I can say it could have been better. Maybe the last day in Paris, but there are days where we lose or we can’t win - someone else is faster or things didn’t work out in the final as we wanted. It was a little bit disappointing to leave without that win, especially as last year Caleb won on the Champs Élysées - that’s the best feeling going home from a race. But as soon as we remember the two stage wins, when some teams didn’t get any, we are happy. It was a good Tour.

We lost John Degenkolb and Philippe Gilbert on the first day. We knew with the guys we had left that if we played it well in the final we were still able to win, but the chance would have been higher for more if we had John and Phil. Still, we proved pretty quickly on stage 3 that we can win with a small team, and that gave us confidence. 

Us lead-out men know that it’s pretty simple with Caleb; he needs to be dropped in 
a good spot with 1km to go and then he finds his way himself. Caleb was quite lucky in those two sprints he won, but he also showed that he was the fastest or he had the best timing. When you look back at those stages in detail, with 1km to go he was up in front and then it was his decision to drop back, to 10 or 15th position because there was a bit of headwind and it was a little bit uphill. He knew if he waited he could save a bit of energy and that would give him what he needed in the last 200 metres. He timed those sprints to perfection.

I may have ridden the most of anyone in the wind, even compared to guys who spent time in the breakaways. I was in a breakaway, but behind the bunch not in front! It started in the Pyrenees, Caleb realised he missed a little bit of threshold power, his climbing legs that he had last year. Then with how it was raced this year and the speed - there were some pretty hard starts in the mountain stages and in the first half an hour with the race for the breakaway, or if it started on a climb. 

Caleb is probably the most pure sprinter of all in the bunch if you look at his body. The muscles, if they go in the lactate zone he really needs time to recover from such efforts and that’s why he struggled in the first climbs. We’d drop back, two or three minutes behind the gruppetto. Maybe in the second hour he’d find his rhythm and recover, but we were already behind. 

In the valleys I was pulling; one or two days it was just me and him, but on other days we had Jasper and Frederik and did a team time trial! We’d get the time information from the sports director, but it’s the gap to the front that matters to see how many minutes you can lose. It was a lot of calculating but with Jasper and Fred we had good horsepower. 

For me, until the last day in the Alps I never really had to go on the limit on the climbs, because I was always dropping back for Caleb. With my experience from other Grand Tours, most of the time in these situations it’s calculations but also feeling, and if you time the whole effort well over the day I was pretty sure we’d make it. Caleb wasn’t, especially the day to Lyon he said two or three times we are all going home, but if you start thinking about it, it gets harder and harder to keep pushing and stay focussed to finish. 

I stayed more positive, trying to motivate and say, 'We can do this power to the end, and if you can hang on to me we can make it, no worries.'