All roads lead to Tour de France debut for Wilco Kelderman

For riders from northern Europe, there is perhaps just one drawback to training in southern Spain in the depths of mid-December. No matter how clear the blue skies above them, their knowledge of the local roads will inevitably be a little hazy.

Wilco Kelderman is one of 11 LottoNL-Jumbo riders who have opted to stay on near Alicante for an extra week after the team’s formal training camp ended at the weekend, and on Tuesday afternoon, he and his cohorts ended up seeing a little more of the Costa Blanca than they had anticipated.

“I meant to do six hours but it ended up being nearer seven,” Kelderman told Cyclingnews. “We thought the road was going to be a little bit shorter but it was longer to the last climb than we expected.”

Kelderman’s sense of direction for the 2015 season is rather firmer. After claiming a fine 7th place in an exceedingly difficult Giro d’Italia, the 23-year-old will make his Tour de France debut next July on very familiar roads. The Grand Départ in Utrecht is less than half an hour from his home town of Amersfoort, and given his pedigree against the watch, he is hopeful of making an impact from the opening time trial

“It’s really near my home so it’s a really big motivation,” Kelderman said. “I think it’s a good opening time trial for me, because it’s a bit longer than a prologue. Last year, the time trials were good for me but I think I can make more progress with the bike and material.”

Although Kelderman impressed at the Giro, particularly on the tappone to Val Martello, the more consistent gradients of the French Alps seem better suited to his Kelderman’s steady climbing style. Certainly, his 4th place at the at the Critérium du Dauphiné this year augurs well for how he might fare in the company of Contador, Froome et al next July.

“The route looks OK for me, although the first week with the cobblestone stages and the Mur de Huy is going to be really important. I just like to ride the French races so I’m really looking forward to riding the Tour in the coming year,” said Kelderman, who was reticent to put a number on what would constitute a successful finish in Paris.

“I hope to begin really good at the Tour and then I hope to go for top 15, top 10. That’s going to be my goal, as high up as possible, but it’s hard to say which place. Anything can happen, especially at the Tour with the crashes and everything, but I am going for a high classification.”

Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya and the Ardennes Classics are intermediate goals en route to the start in Utrecht, though Kelderman is mindful of the need to taper accordingly in late spring, citing a mixed outing at this year's Vuelta a España, where he reached Santiago de Compostela in 14th place overall after struggling to find his rhythm in the opening ten days and then suffering through the second half of the race.

“It was hard to do the two Grand Tours in one year. I went to an altitude camp and then the Tour of Utah but it was a little bit too soon before the Vuelta and I couldn’t rest so much and I wasn’t really good in the Vuelta,” he admitted. “In the end, my legs were really bad and I didn’t recover anymore. But I’m still young and that was probably a factor too.”

Dutch team

Aside from that Utrecht Grand Départ, in the grander scheme of things, too, all roads seem to lead back to the Netherlands in 2015. Following the end of Belkin’s involvement, the successor to the old Rabobank team is now sponsored by the national lottery and a supermarket chain from Tilburg, and its Dutch identity has been reinforced.

“It’s really a Dutch team now. All of the Netherlands is looking to us and all of the riders are speaking Dutch,” Kelderman said, adding with a laugh: “Only George Bennett maybe not.”

Along with Robert Gesink, Kelderman was understandably the main attraction when the new team jersey was presented in Utrecht in the autumn, but already two years ago, following Rabobank’s abrupt withdrawal, he was placed front and centre at the launch of the rebranded Blanco team, and touted as a poster-boy for renewal of Dutch cycling.

Despite that unspoken local responsibility, Kelderman was widely linked with a move abroad through the early apart of the 2014 season. Sky and Orica-GreenEdge were both touted as eager suitors and the rumour mill only exacerbated when Belkin announced its intention to end its backing. Ultimately, however, Kelderman opted to stay put.

“Of course, we looked to other teams and there was a lot of interest but I feel good on this team and the first choice was to stay with Belkin and now with Lotto-Jumbo,” he said. “Of course it was necessary to talk to different teams but my first choice was always Team Lotto.

“No one expected that Belkin would stop so it was a little bit of a surprise for the whole team when that happened. Then during the Tour, it was announced that there would be a new sponsor and the situation was already a lot better. I think we are a really special team, especially in the Netherlands.”

Following Bauke Mollema’s departure to Trek Factory Racing, Kelderman’s status as a team leader has only been reinforced and the responsibility, he said, is one that he enjoys. “In a lot of races I am one of the leaders and outside of the races I’m one of the bigger guys on the team. I’m more important now, I feel it already.”

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Barry Ryan
Head of Features

Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.