How "rider number nine" Kelderman said goodbye to Giro in his mind, but became an important Tour contender Cycling

How "rider number nine" Kelderman said goodbye to Giro in his mind, but became an important Tour contender

How "rider number nine" Kelderman said goodbye to Giro in his mind, but became an important Tour contender

Wilco Kelderman didn't exactly have luck on his side in the first few months after his return to Jumbo-Visma. The rider from Barneveld had to give up his main goal of the year, the Giro d'Italia, but now he can look ahead again: he will play an important role in the Dutch team's Tour squad.

Let's think back to March, when Kelderman made his season debut on behalf of Jumbo-Visma in Tirreno-Adriatico. Originally, he was supposed to be a co-leader alongside Tiesj Benoot, but last minute, Primoz Roglic was also added to the roster. The Slovenian had the opportunity to get acquainted with the invaluable support of Kelderman and Koen Bouwman in the Italian race, who were also set to assist him in the Giro.

"I have spent about four weeks sharing a room with Primoz now, and we simply click well," Kelderman told during Tirreno-Adriatico. "We have the same ideas and are in the same phase of life. That already creates a bond. For me, it's important to get to know Primoz and for him to have complete trust in me during the Giro and these races. It's important to understand how Primoz rides, what he wants, and things like that. So, it's really nice that we're already racing together here in Tirreno."

The first few days of the Tirreno already showed great teamwork between them. Both men performed well in the opening time trial, and in the fourth and fifth stages, Kelderman, who was also fifth in the overall standings at that time, played a crucial role as a domestique for Roglic, helping him claim his two stage victories.

Then came day six, when Kelderman unexpectedly crashed and reached the finish line in pain. "The handlebars were ripped out of my hands," he said after the fall, which was severe enough to prevent him from starting the next day. Kelderman had to skip the Tour of Catalonia and eventually the altitude training camp in Tenerife leading up to the Giro. As a result, the decision was made in early April to bring in Sepp Kuss as a replacement for the Giro.

How "rider number nine" Kelderman said goodbye to Giro in his mind, but became an important Tour contender

"He cannot appear at the start of the Giro with optimal preparation, so he will be replaced. It was a difficult decision, but the only right one," said Head of Performance Mathieu Heijboer during the announcement. "It is better to make decisive choices in a timely manner than to realize that it won't work when it is already too late."

Kelderman certainly understood choice not to go to Giro

At the team presentation of the Tour de Suisse, spoke about that decision which, to outsiders, at the time was quite unexpected. "You know, in this team, they simply want to go for the best results possible: if I can't start the Giro in top form, it won't make sense. Then the right choice quickly becomes clear," he said, with little fuss. The Tour de France was not yet a topic at that moment either. "I wasn't actually supposed to ride the Tour, but when we changed the schedule, we just decided to go into the Sierra Nevada with the guys."

He was purely positive about that training camp. "When you can train with such a good group of riders, you can feel that everyone is so focused on getting the best out of themselves. It gives you extra morale. Everyone is working towards the same goal, so everyone is motivated. The mood is always good."

The Dutch rider did look at the Giro d'Italia with a "little bit of pain in his heart." Eventually, his teammate Roglic won the race. "In January, you mentally switch to riding the Giro with that group, and then in the end, you're not there. That sucks, especially because the Giro is a beautiful race. Although the weather was really bad in the Giro this year, so when I saw that, I thought: it's better that I'm not there," he grinned.

How "rider number nine" Kelderman said goodbye to Giro in his mind, but became an important Tour contender

Kelderman wants to optimally assist leader Vingegaard in July - with good legs

And so, Kelderman became "rider number nine" for the Tour de France, ready to step in if someone were to drop out. That happened sooner than expected when Steven Kruijswijk unfortunately had to withdraw from the Critérium du Dauphiné with multiple fractures. "You don't wish that upon anyone. Stevie was really on the right track, he was riding very strong. It's really tough for him, but that also gave me mixed feelings."

However, Kelderman quickly realized that he couldn't change Kruijswijk's injury. So he flipped that mental switch. "I'm happy that I'm riding the Tour after a great preparation. It would be frustrating to sit at home in July with good legs, but again, I really would never wish Stevie to have fallen out of the Tour selection like that."

Regarding his role in the Tour, Kelderman is very clear: supporting team leader Jonas Vingegaard, that's it. "Maintaining a high ranking in the overall standings? That's not the goal at all. I think it's clear that Jonas is in a league of his own," said the Dutch rider, not taking the opportunity to mention that a good placement in the general classification could also cause trouble for his opponents. "I just need to do my job well in the mountains, that's the most important thing. The goal of Jumbo-Visma is to step up as the strongest collective."

In the coming days, he will first go for a good overall ranking in the general classification of the Tour de Suisse, and Jumbo-Visma has full confidence in Kelderman. Wout van Aert, as he mentioned, will sacrifice himself to support Kelderman. "I will support Wilco as well as possible; he is in great shape and can aim for a good overall placement. That's the main goal." Team director Marc Reef also expressed his trust. "We have trained well at altitude, and we shouldn't put too much weight on the time trial differences," referring to Kelderman's 56th place on day one. "Wilco is still preparing for what's coming in July."

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