KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (VN) — From the opening stage of the 20th Tour de Langkawi on March 8, American Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) claimed the KOM jersey and never let go.
“We came to race aggressively,” Reijnen said Sunday at the conclusion of the race. “I was hoping for a stage win but the KOM jersey is a nice consolation, and being able to wear it from day one onwards was nice. It was a big team effort and the guys took really good care of me.
“I was hoping we could upset the sprinters on a few stages but that wasn’t to be, but I am really happy with the way I raced and the form I have going back to Europe now.”
The 28-year-old from Bainbridge Island, Washington, earned maximum points on all three king of the mountain climbs on the 99.2-kilometer opening stage on Langkawi Island.
Not even a nagging right knee injury sustained after a nasty crash in the closing kilometer of stage 2 could loosen Reijnen’s grip on the mountains classification once the race moved back to mainland Malaysia.
“The team did an amazing job of patching me up,” Reijnen told VeloNews. “I can’t thank my teammates enough for supporting me out on the road and keeping me fighting while I was not at my best.”
Reijnen finished the race with 19-point lead over Francisco Mancebo (Skydive Dubai Pro Cycling) after collecting two more points over the Category 2 Genting Sempah, the second of three categorized climbs on the penultimate stage of the eight-day Asian Tour race.
“From the second climb we knew it was all done,” Reijnen said. “But we had another climb at the finish and wanted to give the stage a real try, so we never let up.”
The final climb was the Cat. 1 Frasier’s Hill, a last minute replacement for the infamous (and HC-rated) Genting Highlands the day before the race due to safety concerns arising from construction work surrounding the area.
“We wanted to give [Frasier’s Hill] a try,” Reijnen said. “The race has been good and we gave it our best. We came here looking for a stage win and came away a bit short on that, but we ride away with the KOM jersey.”
Reijnen’s resilience is no surprise to UnitedHealthcare sport director Hendrik Redant, who praised the 2010 Tour of Rwanda and Princess Mamackakri Sirindhon’s Cup Tour Of Thailand winner.
“Kiel’s a nice guy and one hell of a rider,” Redant told VeloNews. “He is very motivated and has his own way of thinking, which I like a lot. I suppose it’s typical American, I don’t know. He’s always planning ahead and coming up with ideas, and that’s what I like.
“He only started five or six years ago, but with the experience he has now, he’s a guy that could go even further in the top-tier European races.”
Last week was not the first time the University of Colorado graduate and Boulder native has raced in Malaysia.
“I’ve raced here before,” Reijnen said. “I raced Jelajah Malaysia in the past . It’s always great weather here and I get a good block of training before traveling overseas for the classics.
“Plus, I came here from Boulder with about a meter of snow,” he added. “I prefer the heat and am very happy here.”
With Langkawi in the bag, the winner of the last two editions of the Philly Cycling Classic turns his attention toward Europe.
“There’s a lot I want to achieve this year,” admitted Reijnen, who also won a stage at last year’s USA Pro Challenge in Aspen, Colorado. “It’s time to start improving in Europe, especially the classics.
“Flèche Wallonne is the big one for us this year, and on that Wednesday before it, De Brabantse Pijl. These are big races for the team and for me as I build up to a return back to the States for the Tour of California, nationals, and Philly.”
“The Critérium International will also be very important for us,” Redant said. “We want to show our organization we have a team with capacity for doing good stuff in the hard European races and I think Kiel will play a huge role for us there.
“California will be big as well, and I want to win for him in Philly for a third time in a row. I don’t think anyone has ever done that.”
Another race to be held in North America that has caught Reijnen’s attention is the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia (Sept. 19-27).
“The worlds are most definitely a big goal for the year,” he said. “I also think the course suits us more this year than the last few years.
“Then there’s the buildup for the Olympics coming and there are a lot of guys that are motivated and you will see a lot of riders coming out of the woodworks.
“Plus, I think hosting worlds gives the U.S. a really nice opportunity for a new generation of kids to be introduced to the sport.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.