Now home, and back on the path to the Tour de France in July, Wilco Kelderman knows that he was lucky to escape with relatively minor injuries after the driver of an SUV reportedly cut across the Dutchman and six of his teammates on their final training ride in Italy earlier this month.
Kelderman and several of his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates had decided to tag an extra hour of training onto a final ride and as they pushed for their sixth hour in the saddle, a vehicle drove right into their path.
Kelderman was able to return to the team hotel but was later taken to hospital and diagnosed with a concussion and fractured vertebrae in his neck, while Rüdiger Selig also suffered a concussion and Andreas Schillinger was later diagnosed with several fractured vertebrae in a scene similar to the devastating incident that occurred at the Giant-Alpecin camp in 2016.
Speaking exclusively to Cyclingnews from his home, Kelderman recounted the minutes leading up to the terrifying incident.
"I can actually remember everything. It was really shit. We had about five hours on the clock and we wanted to bring it up to six, so a small group of us went off on a big straight road. Then in one moment, a big Mercedes SUV came across. They didn’t stop at all and just drove into our group," the Dutchman said.
"I saw it coming but I couldn’t even brake. It was scary and it went so fast. All of a sudden I was on the ground and it was a big mess. The driver just came in from the side at a junction and she just didn’t stop. She wanted to cross but it simply wasn’t possible and she just drove straight into us.
"I don’t think that she was arrested but she was in a lot of stress. It was her fault but I don’t know what’s next. The police came and wrote it all up the next day. I don’t know how it will go in the next few weeks but it was scary."
Whether it was the shock of the incident or the fact that he had no immediate symptoms, Kelderman was able to return to the team hotel in the minutes after the incident. It wasn’t long, however, before the Giro d’Italia podium finisher realized that he needed further medical attention.
"I actually went back to the hotel and took a shower because I wasn’t that bad at first but then we thought we should do a check at the hospital and I had a concussion. We had a CT scan and then it was diagnosed that I had a neck fracture," he said.
"I had one two years ago and I thought, 'ah fuck, not again'. Not another six weeks in a neck brace. That moment was really frustrating but the neck has been much better. If you saw the accident with the car, it could have been a lot worse. I’m happy that no one has had really big problems."
Eyes still on the Tour de France
Kelderman's recovery has gone quicker than he initially expected, and he is back on the home trainer and able to keep his fitness at a decent level.
He can’t train on the roads and his early-season race schedule has been sacrificed but the 29-year-old is eyeing a return later in the spring. For now, he simply doesn’t want to take any risks with his recovery.
"I’m now back home. For the first week, I had to wear a neck brace because of the broken bone in my neck. On Monday I had an MRI scan and they could see that it was stable around the fracture and that it was healing so it’s been off since then. I just have to be careful but I can train inside and I can do a lot of Zwifting. Hopefully in the next few weeks, I can go outside and do my training," he said.
"It will take more time to heal the fracture and for sure I don’t want to take any risks. It’s another four to six weeks until I go back into competition. We’ve not talked about programme changes yet but that will happen in the next couple of weeks. It’s still quite early."
After finishing third in the Giro d'Italia last year and moving to Bora-Hansgrohe in the subsequent winter, Kelderman has his eye on the Tour de France and a possible GC challenge.
Although he may not be regarded in the favourite bracket of Tadej Pogačar or Egan Bernal, the former Team Sunweb rider has never been doubted for his raw talent or determination.
Bad luck, crashes, and illness have often come at the worst times but with two top-four rides in Grand Tours during his career he is a legitimate top-five contender for the Tour de France.
"For sure I’ll do the Tour de France. That was already planned," he told Cyclingnews.
"The first race on the schedule is Basque Country and then the Classics with the Ardennes. Then I’ll have a break, go to altitude, and then head to the Dauphiné before the Tour. That’s really the plan for the first few months. We’ll have to see about the Olympics.
"I want to go for GC at the Tour and I think it’s a nice opportunity. I think that I’m ready for it. Lennard Kamna is also going for GC and stage wins. I’ve never gone in with really good shape for the Tour and it’s hard to say what will happen and how the others will go, or even who is riding the Tour. The aim is to be as good as possible but I can only look to myself and try and get the best out of my training and work with the team so that I’m ready. I’m going to try and go for the top five or top-10. Whatever is possible."
Swapping Team Sunweb for Bora-Hansgrohe
The move to Bora-Hansgrohe came after four years of service at Sunweb, where Kelderman was a consistently high finisher in a number of stage races. He admits that it was the right time to move on and find a new challenge and that his role at Sunweb was becoming increasingly unclear.
It emerged last spring that Team Sunweb would not re-sign either Kelderman or his teammate Sam Oomen, and the former acknowledges that there was feeling that his former team were more interested in developing younger riders and that he had less and less say over his future.
"You start to think about the end of the year even at the start because already your contract is going to end. I was doubting things a bit towards the end of the 2019 season and I didn’t feel as confident in the team anymore. I’m a bit older and felt that I knew what I needed to do. I wanted to be involved in the plan for the team and that wasn’t really possible," he said.
"It was a bit hard for me because we had a lot of young riders and understood that the structure changed and how they develop the younger guys but I was looking for something new. I still liked the team and the riders there. It’s well organized, but I didn’t feel like I was part of the plan, so then I started to think about something new.
"In June and July I spoke with Bora and they were really enthusiastic. They’re really professional, they have good materials and they want to get the best out of me. That’s what I’m looking for. At Bora that’s a nice match and I can be involved in my own plan. I was really happy to move."
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