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A Chat with Project 1T4i riders Marcel Kittel, Tom Veelers and Tom Stamsnijder

As Dutchmen, both Stamsnijder and Veelers look forward to the world championships coming to Holland in 2012. Along with the treat of having the road race finish on the same Valkenberg climb that concludes the Amstel Gold Race, they are especially anticipating a new world championship trade team time trial event. “We are hoping we can participate with the new team,” Stamsnijder says. “I think it’s one of our team’s main goals to get a good result there.”

2011 Tour de Romandie, stage 2 - Sörensen and Stamsnijder
Chris Sörensen and Tom Stamsnijder at the 2011 Tour de Romandie, stage 2 (file). Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

Not many professional riders have anything good to say about the UCI, but Stamsnijder is delighted with the organizing body’s decision to add this new team discipline to the worlds menu. “The whole year you are with your team. You are more with your teammates than with your girlfriend or your wife,” he notes. With the national teams that compete in the worlds road race events, this cohesiveness is lost. “You get eight guys from the same nationality but different teams put together three days before the worlds and say, ‘OK, Figure it out.’ That’s too hard.” With the new team trial event, Veelers anticipates that the season-long bonding that is the glue of a tight TTT squad will carry through to the world championships.

As for Project 1T4i’s on-the-road strategy for 2011, both riders are also happy about taking an opportunistic, freelance approach to racing. They mention the Garmin-Cervélo team’s slow, steady march to the top tier of the ProTour pecking order as a model. “We are just growing with easy, easy steps,” Veelers says of 1T4i’s progression since its 2005 beginnings. In the same way that Jonathan Vaughters’ team started out in 2008 by plucking off a win here and a win there at races like the Giro and Circuit de la Sarthe, Veelers says, “Everybody is free in the team. Anybody can jump in the breakaway when they want.”

Yet, especially after Kittel’s string of wins in 2011, Veelers admits that it will be more difficult for the team to fly the underdog flag in 2012. Other teams and race organizers  “are starting to know that we take our responsibility,” he explains. In addition to Kittel, he cites double Critérium du Dauphiné stage winner John Degenkolb (HTC in 2011) as a presence, along with Gretsch and Frenchman Alexandre Geniez, who will both help it win invites to important races and make it more difficult for its riders to slip away without other teams taking notice.

Compared to 2011 when he raced in defense of the most-marked man in cycling, Fabian Cancellera, Stamsnijder says his 2012 squad will approach the season with “a different way of racing.” With Leopard-Trek, “we had one big guy, and that’s it. Everyone works for that guy. With this team, they try to motivate everyone.”

Veelers was instrumental in delivering a motivated Marcel Kittel to his stage win at the Vuelta in 2011—he placed seventh in the stage himself. But that race had few opportunities for sprinters, as it grinded riders over one of the most mountainous routes ever. Asked about the infamous Angliru climb in the Cantabrian Mountains, Veelers says he consulted with 35-year old Garmin-Cervélo veteran Andreas Klier before the stage. “He was putting empty bottles in his pocket,” Veelers recalls. The fans on the Angliru, a 13-kilometer climb with some stretches that are nearly 24%, “are really glad with bottles,” Veelers says Klier told him. So Veelers also came prepared with extra bottles for the fans. Smiling at the memory, Veelers says “They just see a bottle and they start pushing you and you are a hundred meters further.” That climb is like few others, Veelers points out. “You are riding full gas at 7k an hour!”

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