After having a bit of a breakthrough season this year UnitedHealthcare's Kiel Reijnen is hoping to improve upon his success, and aims to show himself in the European races in 2015 - the Giro d'Italia in particular if his team is selected - and make the US selection for Worlds in Richmond. While his aims might be common in the American peloton, what sets Reijnen apart is his devotion to the team ethos - the "one for all, all for one" mentality that allows the underdogs to prevail over the more powerful riders, as he and UnitedHealthcare did in the USA Pro Challenge.
Speaking to Cyclingnews at the UnitedHealthcare camp in Asheville, North Carolina earlier this month, Reijnen recalled the success of the season and the respect it earned him in the peloton with bittersweet satisfaction. "You put a lot of time and work into those types of results, and they don't come overnight. By the time you get there, it's not a surprise," Reijnen said. Yet his last result in Colorado was one which will fade from the memory of the cycling public long before the narrow loss in the final USA Pro Challenge stage to Alex Howes loses its impact in Reijnen's mind.
"There's a big difference between winning and getting second. I quantified it - I looked at how many text messages, how many calls, how many Tweets I got [after the second place in Denver, compared with his win in Aspen]. It's not 10 percent less when you finish second. It's 10 percent of what you got when you won. There aren't many people who will remember who was second there, but you put as much work into getting that result as you do to win."
You hear it all the time - riders who miss out are devastated for all the work their team did, when they win, they thank the hard work of their teammates. The team aspect of professional cycling is almost a cliche with some outfits, but with UnitedHealthcare, it is a philosophy. "One team", they call it, the riders are dutifully reminded that the work of the mechanics, soigneurs, directors and staff all contribute in equal parts to the results. For some riders, the party line is quoted by rote, but Reijnen seems sincere when he talks about how it motivates him.
"The races I got results at, there wasn't a single rider or staff member that didn't contribute to that result," he said. "The team believed in me and we had a plan, and we executed the plan. When that all works - there are so many variables in cycling, when you can control the majority of them, it's pretty special."
His stage win in the opening stage of USA Pro Challenge, wearing the yellow jersey, winning the points classification and a repeat victory in the Philly Classic were all fine moments, but Reijnen enjoyed other times that didn't come out as well.
"I had some fun days where we didn't win or podium, but worked well as a team," he said, picking out one particularly satisfying day in the Tour of Utah, on the penultimate stage. "I got in the break with Lucas [Euser], which was the plan at the beginning of the day - and I can't believe that worked because it's such a crap shoot. BMC had Cadel [Evans] bridge across. Both his guys and I were motivated to get the break to stick so Cadel and Lucas could have a shot at the stage win. I enjoy riding my guts out like that for a buddy. It's a good feeling to leave it all out there."
"Colorado was that way, too - winning was fun, it was amazing, but the way we won was what made it significant - especially battling it out with Alex. It gives it meaning. you work really hard to win, but we also work hard to be good teammates, and to come up with these plans and execute them. It reinforces that it's all worth it, that it can come together like that."
All for one, one for all
The value of being a good teammate doesn't just extend to his trade team, but to the US national team for the world championships. Reijnen was selected to race in Ponferrada this year for the first time in his career, and was part of a new generation of riders with a strong "all for one, one for all" attitude in the national team.
"There are a lot of phenomenal American riders out there, but I think what's most important to the riders is that the group that ends up at the race is the group that will race best together," Reijnen said. The philosophy was not just a one-off for 2014, and he expects it will continue for Richmond in 2015, where the US team gets nine spots for hosting the Worlds. "It wasn't about the six most talented guys, it was about the six who could work together. A lot of the decision making came down to that, and will come down to that for Richmond."
Every American rider wants to be selected for Worlds in 2015, and Reijnen expects there to be strong competition for the nine positions. "But what you see about the new generation is a lot of camaraderie. We're all really good friends, we've known each other a long time. The guys who know the course doesn't suit them, they'll be the first to step aside. That's pretty unique. I don't think there are a lot of national teams that are that unselfish."
Reijnen was prepared to give his all for the US team in Ponferrada, but was hampered by the onset of the flu and the furious pace of the Polish team, which took charge from start to the finish and delivered Michal Kwiatkowski to the win.
"My job was to be attentive in the middle part of the race, to watch for attacks and cover anything that went. But that never happened. The pace the Polish team set nullified everything. Every single guy on their team was strong, and they plowed ahead all day long."
"I had higher expectations for Worlds," he admitted. "It was hard to get an idea of what the course was like. The Spanish media was downplaying how much climbing there was, even going as far as calling it a sprinter's course. I didn't see a sprinter's course. All of the sprinters were ridden out of the race. I think Richmond suits me better."
The Worlds are a bit of a conundrum for riders, who spend all year working for the interests of their trade teams, but when it comes time for Worlds the allocations are set by the UCI points by individual nationality. UCI ranking for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio will also factor into allocations, and both are goals for Reijnen. Fortunately, UnitedHealthcare supports those goals.
"The team really supported me trying to make the Worlds team this year, and it was a goal for them as well as myself," Reijnen said. UnitedHealthcare's goals for the USA Pro Challenge will meld well with Reijnen's aims for Richmond. "It's my home race, and the lead-in for Worlds, so it is a good time to be at peak fitness. I want to make the Richmond team, but if I'm not at my best, or don't feel I'm the best man for the job, I would want someone else to go. I do believe in the all for one, one for all attitude. I hope I have the legs to be on that team when the time comes."
WorldTour team not required
After demonstrating his abilities in Colorado in August, there is no doubt Reijnen caught the eye of the WorldTour teams. He's watched riders much younger than himself being snapped up by the likes of Team Sky, Giant-Shimano, Garmin or Trek straight out of the U23 ranks, but Reijnen doesn't see being in the WorldTour as a requirement for achieving his goals.
"I'm not opposed to being on a WorldTour team, but my schedule is about the same as my friends in the WorldTour. The difference is I'm on a team that's US-based, I don't have to fly to Spain for team camp. I like the mentality here, the professionalism. What's the difference if you're both on the start line for Milan-San Remo?"
While he doesn't rule out joining a WorldTour team in the future, Reijnen said he's content to grow along with UnitedHealthcare. "For me, what's more relevant is what kind of team I'm on, more than its ranking. Is it nice to be on the number one ranked team? I'm sure it is. They have more resources, and bigger budgets. But that doesn't mean their mentality lines up with mine. I wouldn't go to a team just because of their ranking. There are certainly lots of WorldTour teams that have wonderful programs, and have mentalities that work with my style of racing," he said, but the top tier can have its down sides.
"Some guys just disappear when they go [to the WorldTour] - it can be shocking for a lot of riders. I don't do well when I'm told to just go do your best. I need more guidance, more specificity. That's what this team has done well for me, and it has helped me get results.
"Each rider is different, and each programme is different. If you don't line the two up it can be hard for the team and the rider to get what they want out of the relationship. It's not all about being on the biggest team or how big your contract is, it's about finding a team that can make you a better rider, and a team you can help elevate. It would be really satisfying to keep growing with this program rather than just joining a big team."
One thing the WorldTour teams get that UnitedHealthcare doesn't is a guaranteed entry to the Grand Tours. UnitedHealthcare is aiming firmly at the Giro d'Italia in 2015, and has hired a clutch of talented Italians - Marco Canola, Daniele Ratto and Federico Zuolo - in order to help the cause. Should they be selected for a wild card invitation, Reijnen expects the Giro to be his first major objective of the year.
"A lot of the early season will be the build-up for the Giro. It will be 100 percent from mid-January [he starts in Tour de San Luis] through the Giro if we make the selection. Before the Giro we have Milan-San Remo and hopefully a couple of Ardennes Classics. I want to be on fire for those."
After having his 2014 season start hampered by a nasty crash in the Tour of Qatar, Reijnen is hoping to show himself in some of the Classics, now that he's had a few runs under his belt. "I think results come with having that experience. I'm looking forward to getting more comfortable in the bigger races. Now that I've done them a few times, I have more of an idea what I'm getting into. I hope to have more success there."
Should the team make the Giro selection, Reijnen expects everyone to be fully prepared. "The team's done a lot of work to be in the position to be ready to take on a Grand Tour. We spent a lot of time to be fully prepared to commit to that. When we say we're pushing to get in, we take it very seriously.
"The Giro is unpredictable, but there are a lot of punchy finishes that would suit me. I've never ridden a Grand Tour, but I have ridden with enough guys that have to have reason enough to believe I could make it. It would be an eye opening experience for sure."
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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