Wilco Kelderman is ready to step out of the shadows.
The Dutch climber enters 2020 as Team Sunweb’s GC hope in the absence of its former leader and focal point, Tom Dumoulin. The Sunweb team had rallied behind Giro d’Italia-winning Dumoulin through the past seasons, but has now lost its talisman after he moved to Jumbo-Visma in the winter.
And so the time has come for 28-year-old Kelderman, who will be able to select his own program and enjoy outright leadership for the first time since his 2017 move to Sunweb.
“It is a real shame to lose Tom,” Kelderman told VeloNews before stage 3 of the UAE Tour. “But I’m ready to step up. It’s exciting for me. I can build on what he [Dumoulin] showed me.”
During their three seasons as teammates, Kelderman rode in support of Dumoulin during races they both started. Kelderman was only able to step up a rung in the ladder in the races that Dumoulin sat out – notably the past three season’s Vuelta a Espana, where he snagged fourth overall in 2017.
However, Kelderman was able to benefit from years in the shadows, playing out an apprenticeship to his teammate as they trained and raced together. As the two main climbing talents in the Sunweb team, countrymen Dumoulin and Kelderman spent a lot of time together training both at home and at training camps.
“I learned a lot from Tom,” Kelderman said. “I learned from him but he also pushed me up – you get better when you have a good rider on your team. At altitude camps we could build up to each other – it was good. We did our efforts together and it gave you a mark.”
Just as Kelderman benefitted physically from working with Dumoulin, he was able to learn from his teammates’ management of races and leadership style – a talent that saw Dumoulin take the 2017 Giro and place second in both the Italian race and the Tour de France in 2018.
“It was good for me to race with and be around Tom,” said Kelderman. “I would see things in races that he did which I have learned too, like how to ride and manage a GC, you could learn a lot from these guys. Even on training camp I could see how he managed himself.”
Kelderman heads into 2020 racing the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana, leaving rising 24-year-old teammate Sam Oomen a shot at his first Tour de France.
Kelderman rode the UAE Tour contesting the overall, and finished the race – which was canceled early due to fears of a Coronavirus outbreak – in sixth place, 2:34 down on race-winner Adam Yates.
The threat of Coronavirus had put early-season Italian races under threat, but now they’ve been given the all-clear, the next steps for Kelderman should be planned starts at Tirreno-Adriatico and Giro d’Italia. Although he is the most experienced GC rider in the team, Kelderman feels free of pressure as he heads up Sunweb’s young team.
“I don’t feel more pressure than last years, when I did the Vuelta as leader and it went well,” said Kelderman. “It will be different without Tom for sure, I will have the opportunity to choose my calendar and step up – but the team doesn’t expect from us just yet.”
“It’s a pity Tom has gone, I liked and respected him as a person and leader. But, for sure, it opens possibilities for me. Let’s just see how it goes.”