Most senior mechanical engineering students at the University of Colorado spend their spring putting the final touches on their design expo projects. Kiel Reijnen is leading the GC at the Tour of Thailand.
Reijnen finished fourth overall at the Redlands Classic last week and added to his lead in Thailand Saturday, earning the six-second time bonus for second place in the fourth stage. He sits atop the standings with two stages remaining.
Riding for Barney King’s Waste Management development team, Reijnen was the top amateur at the 2008 Nature Valley Grand Prix. At the time, Waste Management had a formal relationship as a feeder team with Jelly Belly and director Danny Van Haute came calling soon after. Van Haute invited Reijnen to join the team as a stagiaire at the U.S. Pro Cycling Championships and Tour of Missouri and he made a solid impression, earning a roster place in 2009.
Reijnen’s rookie year was a mixed bag. He kicked off his pro career with a 12th-place finish in stage 4 at the Tour of California and 10th overall at Redlands one month later — his result would have likely been higher had he not dropped his chain in the prologue.
But a severe case of food poisoning at the Tour de Qinghai Lake in July derailed Reijnen’s season. More than a month of hit-or-miss fitness and bad luck through the Tour of Utah and U.S. Pro led up to the Tour of Missouri, where Reijnen finally got back on track, spending stage 2 in an 80-mile breakaway and finishing 10th in the stage 6 uphill sprint. Reijnen closed the year out with strong showings at the Tour of Hainan and Sun Tour, where he finished 16th overall.
“(2009) was pretty consistent until I got sick in China,” said Reijnen. “I wanted experience last year. I raced as much as I could, I had some good results, but I wanted to push through even when I wasn’t going well. I think I am stronger for that.”
The 23-year-old from Bainbridge Island, Washington, kicked 2010 off with a second place in the Redlands prologue and finished fourth on GC, three seconds behind winner Ben Day and sandwiched between teammates Will Routley and Carter Jones.
VeloNews caught up with Reijnen in Thailand on the eve of stage 4.
VeloNews: The team has gotten off to such a strong start in 2010. What is the mood in the team right now?
Kiel Reijnen: We are confident and ready for more, The momentum keeps everyone going strong. We knew things would be different this year as soon as we got to camp.
VN: You’ve been in the jersey for a few days in Thailand. What’s the racing been like over there so far?
KR: It’s hot. Real hot. We are using 125-plus bottles a day and ice socks. We took a strong lead in the TT and we have proved that we have five guys here as strong as anyone. I think most of the field is waiting to see what we do. The stages have been pretty flat; some hills are coming though. The boys have done an amazing job keeping me protected. We have four guys doing the work of eight — it’s impressive, to say the least.
VN: You’ve surprised some with two TT podiums in the last week, including the win in Thailand. What’s going on?
KR: This year is my year to make an impression. I have been under the radar for most of my time on the bike; after this year I won’t be. I gained experience last year. I knew what I was getting into, so this year I came in prepared for winning races. The results I have so far this year may have surprised many but not me.
VN: Give folks the elevator speech. What is Kiel Reijnen about in 30 seconds or less?
KR: Well, I guess I am a bit of an oddball. At least that is what people tell me. I love racing my bike, but I hate when that is all guys talk about. When I am at home the only time I am thinking about biking is when I am on the bike. I spend most my time doing schoolwork, cooking and projects. I love projects. I am a one-minded individual; don’t ask me to do two things at once. I love good food and family.
VN: You ran a marathon on a bet during the off-season, with basically no preparation. What was that all about?
KR: I am a masochist — that is probably why I ride a bike. I like extremes and a friend bet me I couldn’t make it so I made it my mission to prove him wrong.
VN: Did it hurt?
KR: My knees were sore for a day, but after that first day I was good to go again. I took some advice and wore the oldest shoes I could find, duct-taped them to my feet and tried to run most of it landing on my toes. I think it helped, although I don’t have anything to compare it to.
VN: Asia can be a tough place for stage racing, with the food and environment so different from the North American scene. You got sick last year in China. How do you plan for a trip to Asia and how does a trip like this compare with a similar European or U.S. race?
KR: Now I pack light, with only a change of clothes and some spandex. The rest of my bag is filled with food. That way if we stay at a sketchy hotel, I can just eat out of my bag. I stay away from uncooked things and meat. The racing reminds me of Europe more then America, but it is a different world for sure. A lot of times I feel more like I am trying to survive than win a bike race. You have to have a high tolerance for misery to do some of these races.
VN: You’re in your last year at the University of Colorado. What is your graduation outlook?
KR: I am full time this semester at Boulder and I am looking at graduating this winter. It is getting harder and harder, though, with all the travel. I like learning, but it will be nice to have one less distraction when I am done. Like I said, I am a one-minded person.
VN: What’s on the checklist for 2010? What are your primary goals?
KR: I got sick at Qinghai Lakes last year when I was three days from finishing a strong GC. I plan on going back there for redemption; I think it is a race that suits me. California is of course the biggest goal. With it being in May this year we have a shot to really come in flying and it doesn’t hurt to have some confidence from the early season races. I would like to prove that I can race with the European guys and be competitive. There are a handful of guys my age paving their way on those big teams right now. It will be fun to race with them.