Road

Kiel Reijnen, America’s best rider not on a WorldTour team

Reijnen's career is on a different course than some of his peers, but he's worked his way to the very front of the young U.S. peloton.

BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado (VN) — For a second consecutive year, American Kiel Riejnen of UnitedHealthcare finished the USA Pro Challenge wearing the green jersey. Just as he did in 2014, Reijnen won one stage, and finished on the podium, or close to it, often enough to seal the points competition.

This year, his stage win and green jersey came on the back of a stage win, and three days in the leader’s jersey, at the Tour of Utah, which followed a third-place at the U.S. pro road championship — a result that very likely would have been a victory, had Reijnen not punctured on the final, closing circuit in Chattanooga. Reijnen was the strongest sprinter in a small bunch when his rear wheel lost air crossing the finish line with one small lap remaining.

Last year, Reijnen’s stage win and green jersey in Colorado came after a win at the UCI 1.1. Philadelphia Cycling Classic, which was his second consecutive victory there, on a course that features a kilometer-long uphill finish on the Manayunk Wall.

All totaled, the picture emerges of a rider capable of winning reduced-bunch sprints, uphill finishes, and defending both yellow and green jerseys at major U.S. races. Though he’s not an outright sprinter, climber, or GC rider, Reijnen, 29, is a proficient all-rounder — a rider in the mold of a Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), albeit with less horsepower. (He’s also finished third overall at the Tour of Qinghai Lakes, in 2010, and won the king of the mountains at the Tour de Langkawi, earlier this year.)

The national championships in particular have been a thorn in Reijnen’s side. A fiercely patriotic American, who hails from Bainbridge Island, Washington, but lives in Boulder, Colorado, Reijnen has stated several times that he dearly wants to wear the stars-and-stripes jersey of national road champion. Instead, however, he’s finished third an agonizing four times since 2010.

An intelligent athlete — he’s still just six credits shy of completing a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Colorado — and one of the better interviews in American cycling, Reijnen is a popular and well-respected rider among fans, the media, his teammates, and his competitors.

All this begs the question — why is Kiel Reijnen the best American rider without a WorldTour contract?

In part, he said, it’s because the right offer hasn’t come his way. And it’s also because, for Reijnen — whose UnitedHealthcare Pro Continental squad races internationally, including at events like Milano-Sanremo, Strade Bianche, and Fleche Wallonne — a European contract isn’t the ultimate goal.

“Some of that is in my control, and some of it is out of my control,” Reijnen said, when asked why he’s not racing at the WorldTour level. “It’s a very subjective sport that way. There are only so many teams, and only so many directors. Those directors get an idea in their head of what they are looking for, in riders, for each year, and there’s a lot of thought that goes into that. There’s definitely a lot of pressure on them to put together a team. … It’s not easy. In the defense of the many directors out there, they don’t know who is going to get injured, how one rider is going to get along with another rider, there’s so many dynamics on the road, and at races. It’s a tough job.”

“I’m not the best at promoting myself,” he continued. “I have a hard time doing that. And at the same time, it’s not like I’ve spent the last four years desperately looking for any WorldTour contract I can get my hands on.”

Reijnen said that his age — he turned 29 in June — probably plays a factor, as well as the fact that he’s quite content living and racing in the U.S. on the strongest team in the States.

“Part of it is because I haven’t gotten the right offer, and part of that is because I love what I do here,” he said. “I’m not so enchanted with the idea of living and racing in Europe. I know what that takes. I’ve seen a lot of guys do it, for better and for worse. It’s not me, by default. But I’m sure I could make it work, for the right situation.”

Last October, Reijnen was among about 20 American riders invited by USA Cycling to preview the upcoming world championships course in Richmond Virginia.

With the technical urban circuit, and short, punchy climbs in Richmond, Reijnen — along with Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin), Brent Bookwalter and Taylor Phinney (both BMC Racing) — is among Team USA’s best shot at taking a medal. His performance in Colorado, and the favorable Richmond course, almost certainly merits him a spot on the national team.

Racing for his country, wearing national colors, is an honor Reijnen doesn’t take lightly, and it’s something he said he desperately would like to do in Rio de Janeiro next summer. And he knows that, in order to do that, he’d likely need to either medal at worlds or get a major result at a WorldTour event.

Though the UHC team has tried, repeatedly, it has yet to garner a wildcard invitation to the Giro d’Italia, often overlooked for Italian teams such as Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani-CSF, Nippo-Vini Fantini, and Southeast.

“For the right offer, for the right team, for the right situation, I’d [move to Europe to live and race], for sure,” Reijnen said. “There are some goals I have yet to accomplish. I’d really like to make the Olympic team, and that’s hard if you’re not doing a grand tour. But I also have a lot of faith in this program. I’m not typical in the sense that my one and only goal is to make a WorldTour team.

“I love my team. I would do … almost anything for the guys on this team,” Reijnen added. “They have a lot of faith in me, and I have a lot of faith in them. I love the program, and having that mutual faith is really important to me. If I was just floating on a team, I wouldn’t be happy, and I wouldn’t be performing, if I didn’t have that ‘Band of Brothers’ feeling. That’s what is really important to me. And it’s not just riders, it’s staff, it’s everybody, management. I’ve found that at UHC, and I’ve thrived with it. It’s made a big difference for me. So I’m not quick to leave them.”

UnitedHealthcare’s John Murphy won the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge on Sunday -Ed.