In 2014 Wilco Kelderman was heralded as the next big thing in Dutch stage racing. Seventh in the Giro d'Italia was backed by fourth at the Criterium du Dauphine and it looked as though Belkin Pro Cycling had their hands on one of the hottest young prospects in the sport.
However two years of unfulfilled expectations followed, with back-to-back disappointments at the Tour de France punctuated by the occasional flicker of talent that first shone. At just 25 years old Kelderman appeared to be yesterday's news but a new team, and a new chance have offered the rider a fresh start. It could be just what he needs.
In a rather desolate hotel lobby on the outskirts of yet another wintery Spanish holiday destination, Cyclingnews waits for the new Sunweb rider to appear. On the other side of the lobby a number of his new teammates are enjoying a post-training ride coffee, and the softly spoken Kelderman gives them a familiar smile as he sits down a few tables away with us to talk about his past, present and future.
"I had five years at Lotto Jumbo and I just felt that I needed that change. Something different and new people around me," he tells us straight off the bat.
"I've always been curious about how other teams worked and there were options but this team had a really interesting story, and they already had some Dutch riders, so it made sense."
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Kelderman burst through the ranks at Rabobank's under 23 programme – a conveyor belt of talent that includes Tom Dumoulin, Robert Gesink and a number of other household names. Kelderman's results in those first few years were steady and already attracted attention. He finished eighth in the Dauphine as a neo pro – taking the white jersey in the process – and ran a place higher in the overall at the Tour of California. A year later he performed well at the Tour of Romandie, finished 16th in his Grand Tour debut at the Giro, and won the Tour of Denmark. However, 2014 saw the real breakthrough, with a ride that saw him out-climb Cadel Evans and Ryder Hesjedal on his way to seventh at the Giro.
"Two years ago I had a really good season and I expected a lot from myself in the years after that but it didn't really work out," he says.
According to the Dutchman, who has suffered his fair share of crashes at the most inopportune moments - such as when leading in Suisse this year – he began to overthink things. Success had brought with it pressure and a desire to outperform what were already impress performance. The hunt for perfection Kelderman became lost.
"After 2014 I looked at the details and thought about where I could improve, so I looked at my training even more, and I looked at the efficiency of my pedal stroke, and there's lots you can do even with the measurements of your bike but the most important thing was just riding up hills fast."
"Maybe things happened too soon," he adds.
"Or I made that big step too quickly. Maybe I should have done the Giro for another year in 2015, and taken it step-by-step, but that's racing. As a rider you always want more and more, but in the end it can be too much. I ended up doing too much training, not having a good enough diet and then working too much on overall fitness. It meant that I forgot the basics."
"I'm still 25 but the time has still gone really fast. I've been a pro five years and that's a long time. The time at under 23 flew and before I knew it I was at the Dauphine with Rabobank and got top ten. The start of my career everything was so fast. I just trained and didn't think about anything else. I just did the basics and it all happened for me."
Time for a change
In such a lonely part of Spain in December there's little to do other than the basics and Kelderman has been bumbling along with his new teammates on their long riders in a bid to stock up miles for the season ahead. His schedule has yet to be announced but the consensus is that he will ride a Grand Tour in support of Dumoulin, while at the same time focusing on shorter stage races as he rebuilds his confidence.
This year's 32nd place at the Tour was certainly not the toughest part of his career but Kelderman admits that it was a turning point.
"After the Tour this year I already had it in my mind that I need to move. Everyone was really close at Lotto Jumbo and it was nice there but I needed a new view. After the Tour I think Lotto Jumbo felt that it was time to change as well."
"That was in my mind when it came to deciding my future. I felt that a new team would help me freshen things up give me a new start."
"I still think that I'm a GC guy but it's going to be better for me start with the weeklong races and be at my best there. So races like Romandie for example. Then we'll see about the longer races later in the season."
Kelderman's old team are staying just a few miles down the coast, but it already feels like a world apart as he leaves us and heads off to chat with his new teammates. A new kit, a new set to faces and different goals could be all that's needed to rekindle the fire under Kelderman's career.
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