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Rebuilding Wilco: Jumbo-Visma and its plan to take Kelderman back to the top

Dutch team plots to unearth the form beneath Kelderman's misfortunes: 'Wilco is one of the best GC riders in the world.'

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Remember Wilco Kelderman?

Jumbo-Visma certainly does – that’s why the Dutch powerhouse signed him for the coming three seasons.

Jumbo-Visma brings Kelderman into its stable of stage racers next year and is committed to grooming its diaster-prone new recruit into the thoroughbred they believe he can be.

Team director Merijn Zeeman is convinced Kelderman can pull a U-turn after a bleak 2022 and return to the front of the classification pack.

“For Wilco, it’s very important that we analyse how we can improve again. And I think if we can manage that, then Wilco is one of the best GC riders in the world,” Zeeman told VeloNews. “We have big hopes and plans for him.”

Also read:

Kelderman crashed and burned out of the top of the grand tour scene this season.

A return to the team that he turned pro and spent seven seasons with will see Kelderman put through the stage-race school of success.

It’s a system that nurtured Jonas Vingegaard to the top of the Tour de France, put Primož Roglič into the Vuelta a España red jersey three years in a row, and landed Steven Kruijswijk on the Tour podium before that.

“We plan for him to get a very important role, but first we want to rebuild him, starting right from the base. We know he has the talent that’s for sure – we just need to bring it back,” Zeeman said.

“How we always work is that we start thinking, ‘OK, but how can we improve you as a rider.’ I think he got at a lot of injuries and bad luck in 2021, and then it was also hard for him to prepare for 2022 in a good way.”

If you challenged Kelderman to a coin toss, you could bet he’d lose.

The 31-year-old has gained a reputation as one of the unluckiest stage racers in pro cycling through a career littered with injuries and misfortune.

The last 18 months saw Kelderman dial the disaster up to 11.

He sustained fractures to his pelvis and ribs in a crash at the Benelux Tour last September, blew out of GC contention with broken spokes on the Blockhaus stage of the 2022 Giro d’Italia, and was left covered in cuts after a heavy crash in the final week of the Vuelta.

And just to cap it all, Jai Hindley overshadowed him in their podium two-three for Sunweb in 2020 and did it again when he won the pink jersey when the pair raced with Bora-Hansgrohe this spring.

Where can Kelderman fit in Jumbo-Visma’s GC jigsaw?

Kelderman wore pink for two days in 2020 but was eventually bettered by Geoghegan Hart and teammate Hindley.

Jumbo-Visma toppers Vingegaard, Roglič, Kruijswijk, Wout van Aert, and Sepp Kuss all cast a long shadow.

Will Kelderman be cast into the shade again at Jumbo-Visma?

“First we have to make a very good analysis,  and give him a new performance plan to bring him to his highest level,” Zeeman said.

“Then he will play a crucial role in all of our GC ambitions and he will be the GC man himself, or he will be probably the most important helper for Jonas or Primož.”

With six grand tour top-1os and a Giro podium on his palmarès, Kelderman isn’t moving to a new squad solely to play mega-domestique. But opportunities will be limited in the near future.

A time trial-heavy Giro puts Roglič in contention for Jumbo-Visma leadership in Italy, while Vingegaard will more than likely defend yellow at the Tour – whether the team is ready to admit it or not.

Also read: Jumbo-Visma ‘not decided’ about Vingegaard Tour defense

Kelderman will likely be left testing his legs supporting others early in the season before elbowing with Kuss and team long-timer Kruijswijk for the captain’s armband at the Vuelta a España.

“I think this is the right development in my career. Jumbo-Visma has made progress and I’m curious to see where it will lead,” Kelderman said when he signed through 2025.

“Jumbo-Visma is an ambitious team and I hope to contribute to their goals. I think I still have room for growth and show great things.”

But first things first, Kelderman will be seeing a semester at Zeeman’s stage race school of success.