For the last two weeks, Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) has been flying under the radar in the Vuelta a España, but after a very strong ride at Calar Alto last Wednesday, finishing with Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), there's now no escaping the fact that the Dutchman is currently racing one of his best Grand Tours to date.
Seventh in the Giro d'Italia in 2014, the same race where he had to abandon this May after a bad crash at the foot of the Blockhaus, the 26-year-old is currently holding a career best fourth place overall in the Vuelta a España, his seventh Grand Tour since he turned pro back in 2012.
Should he get through the two tough mountain stages this weekend in the same position or better, Kelderman, as a former Dutch National time trial champion, could be on track to break into the top three on Tuesday's long race against the clock. But as the Team Sunweb rider told Cyclingnews, for now he's taking things on the day by day.
"I had some bad luck, this spring, so for sure it's good to be going well," Kelderman commented on Friday. "I was really looking forward to the Vuelta and racing again."
He refuses to put a number on where he can finish in the Vuelta although he says "maybe" the top 10 on GC. That seems like a fairly conservative estimate given how well he's doing so far, but adds credence to his insistence that Kelderman really is taking things on the day by day.
The echoes from the past of another top Vuelta performance by another gifted Team Sunweb time triallist from the Netherlands are hard to ignore, given Tom Dumoulin's 2015 Vuelta, which he came within a whisker of winning, represented a breakthrough race for him. Indeed, Kelderman was going to be one of Dumoulin's key high mountains racers in the Giro this spring until he was unlucky enough to crash.
But Kelderman balks slightly at the idea of talking to Dumoulin about the Vuelta for some extra advice on how to race GC there. "Every Grand Tour is different, but I'd done the Vuelta before and I knew what it would be like," he says. "I'm just looking at this Grand Tour."
While he agrees the stage 16 time trial will be "good for me", he insists on concentrating on the mountain stages first.
"I know the climbs really well on Sunday, I was there in altitude training once and we did the Hazallanas climb in 2014." The climb was visited in that year's Vuelta a Andalucía.
"It's steep, but after that still Monachil [the second climb on Sunday] is really hard, and then there's a little descent and the big roads up to Sierra Nevada," Kelderman said.
"I think it's a really hard stage suits me, it's the same as the stage to Calar Alto which was hard, but it's good because the last climb, the one up to Sierra Nevada isn't so steep and it's steady.
"The time trial is good for me, but there's still a long way to go, and a hard weekend coming up. First I'll focus on that, and we'll see after the rest day."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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