Wilco Kelderman: “Only after La Plagne do I value third place in the standings”
Third place in the Criterium du Dauphiné classification is nothing new for him. Seven years ago Wilco Kelderman had already been on this classification for five days with Chris Froome and Alberto Contador just ahead of him. While the new leader of BORA – hansgrohe once again made an impression halfway through the Col de Porte, he does not dwell too long on his current short classification. “Only at La Plagne will we get clarity in the balance of power,” he is realistic.
Still, his fourth place in Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse between explosive climbers such as Alejandro Valverde, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Patrick Konrad and Enric Mas among others can be called a boost. Especially because Kelderman also finished fourth two days earlier in the 16.4 kilometer time trial in Roche-La-Molière. Near Grenoble, despite a killer pace, twenty men still sprinted for the stage victory. “Perhaps another sign that the top is broadening again,” concluded Kelderman.
Although he also noted that the conditions for attackers in the sixth stage of the Dauphiné were far from ideal. “From the start there was a very high pace, while in the final there was a lot of headwind. If you turned on that, you were naturally blown back. And the final climb was too explosive to make big differences. It will really explode on the climb to La Plagne.”
Kelderman knows what it’s like to finish briefly in the Dauphiné. It has been discussed in the BORA – hansgrohe bus over the past few days. Frederik Wandahl, the 20-year-old debutant in the German formation, asked the ten-year-older Dutchman how his first Dauphiné went. Kelderman had to dig into his memory to 2012 and reminisced about the 53 kilometer time trial to Bourg-en-Bresse. “There I suddenly became fourth and eventually eighth in the standings”, he emphasizes his successful debut in the ‘small Tour’.
“In that time trial, the Kazak Andrey Kasheskin started behind me at the time. I was afraid he would catch up with me pretty soon. When we had passed the first intermediate point, I was told by sports director Erik Dekker that I had the fastest intermediate time. Yes, fastest of the team, I thought. After the second intermediate point I was again told by Dekker that I had achieved the fastest intermediate time. But he also indicated that I was ten seconds faster than Michael Rogers. Only then did I realize that I was the fastest of the entire field at that moment. ‘Fuck, I’m going fucking hard’, then ran through my head. So I ended up fourth.”
In his second Dauphiné in 2014, Kelderman again impressed. In the second stage, arriving at the Col du Béal, he was the only one in Belkin’s colors to follow Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. “Actually, I only have good memories of this round. That year I was fourth in the final standings.” Just like Kelderman made a big impression a few times in that other preparatory race for the Tour de France, the Tour de Suisse.
“It is important for your form and certainly also for your morale to be good here. The Tour is not very far away, so you have to be in good shape here anyway. It’s not that I’m looking for confirmation here, but I’m definitely looking for the real hardness of the course. That works best when you can measure yourself against the strongest.”
“Last year I rode the Tirreno-Adriatico in the run-up to the Giro d’Italia for that reason. I wasn’t great then and I suffered enormously in those eight days. I just need that feeling for a big round. It is the intention that I take an extra step towards the Tour here. Then I have two weeks to train. Then I can take another step conditionally.”
Where Primoz Roglic no longer drives any race from Liège-Bastogne-Liège to the Tour and Tadej Pogacar prefers his home race to the Tour of Slovenia, the 30-year-old born Barnevelder would not make such a choice easily. “With a view to the Tour, I really need the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse. In the workouts, you can try to mimic these efforts, but don’t push yourself to the limits. The way I drive now, I had hoped beforehand. I get stronger by competing with the best every day. That works better than having an outlier for a day by fighting for a day’s victory. I think I will come out of the Dauphiné strongest with this course.”
At the weekend, the focus of this Dauphiné is with difficult Alpine stages to La Plagne and Les Gets. “I live here from day to day and hope to get a little stronger every ride. It is certainly not the case that I have chosen a certain stage to test myself once more. Saturday’s ride to La Plagne with the climb to Cormet de Roselend is the toughest. With Team Sunweb we were there on an altitude training course, so I know those climbs. There I will get an indication of how I actually stand.”
Only at the top of La Plagne does Kelderman take a serious look at the standings. “Defending a third place doesn’t help anyway. It’s only when you’re in the lead in a lap that there’s something to defend. Despite the time trial, everyone at the top of the standings is still very close to each other. Especially with a view to the two stages this weekend.”
It is clear that Kelderman is comfortable in his own skin. He looks more relaxed than in previous years. “Yes, it is true that I race here with a good feeling. Everything runs very smoothly, which ensures a certain relaxation. I am at my place at Bora where the atmosphere is very good and there is also a very good structure. If I indicate something that I want to be different or better, it is immediately taken care of. The collaboration with my trainer Hendrik Werner (who accompanied Tom Dumoulin at Team Sunweb in 2018, ed.) is going well. He understands me very well and his training is going well. And of course the podium place in last year’s Giro d’Italia is a confirmation that I also have a lot of confidence from.”