The barbecues sizzled, the cool boxes emptied and the big field put on a show – ten times up The Wall. But with the new finish atop that Wall the winner was no longer a big finisher – it needed a man with speed and climbing ability. Step forward the man who just the week before had taken his third bronze in the US Pro Champs, Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthCare) – and we’ll let you into a secret about that third bronze, too.
(See Darrell Parks’ awesome photo report of the race here.)
Reijnen rode stagiaire with Jelly Belly in 2008, securing a promising fifth spot on GC in the Tour of Hainan. Signing full pro with the team, he took several top ten stage placings in the Tour of the Qinghai Lakes in 2009 but for 2010 had progressed to a level where he was third on GC in the race. He was also fourth in Redlands, won the Tour of Thailand and took his first Nationals road race bronze.
He signed with Team Type 1 for 2011 with the high light being four stage wins and the GC in the Tour of Rwanda. Last season saw three runner-up placings on stages in Qinghai as well as ninth on GC and his second bronze in the Nationals. With TT1 changing direction for 2013 Reijnen joined the UnitedHealthCare ‘Blue Train.’ A European campaign was the prelude to a stage win in Gila, a third bronze at the Nationals and joy in Philly. We spoke to him, at his Boulder Colorado home the day after his win.
PEZ: Your best ever win, Kiel?
Well, I won the Tours of Thailand and Rwanda but by the time you eventually win them you’re a bit burned out with the defence of the jersey – so winning Philly had much more of a feeling of immediate relief. But I’m not sure if it quite makes up for the disappointment of the Nationals . .
PEZ: How many times have you ridden Philly?
That’s my fourth time and I thought the new parcours was really good – they just took out the flat part! We climbed Manayunk ten times; I think we only used to ride it seven times, before? It makes the race tougher because you have less recovery time between each ascent. And I think that to finish it at the top of Manayunk is right; it should always have finished there – the atmosphere on the Wall defines the race.
There’s nothing quite like a Philly crowd.
PEZ: Who were your ‘danger men?’
Guys like Phil Gaimon (Bissell) he was very strong in the Nationals; Alex Candelario and Jesse Anthony for Optum – and Mancebo (5-hour Energy) he was a guy we weren’t going to let go. He’s a tough guy to read, I was watching him and he didn’t look comfortable on the bike – but then he never does! The NetApp guys were an unknown quantity – they flew in late, sometimes you get away with that, sometimes you don’t.
PEZ: There was a whole lot of UHC on the front of what was left of the peloton approaching Manayunk for the last time.
We decided that we had to be attentive, be involved in the moves – I was in one, myself. The first 100 K there was a lot of stuff happening, the domestic teams were active and with the climbs coming in quick succession it was hard. And it was good to see the likes of Optum and Bissell well involved in the race. A move with 24 in it went up the road and we were a little worried – albeit we had two riders in there – and with 80 K to go we decided that it probably wouldn’t be a cohesive move. We let the other teams take responsibility and delayed riding – we figured it was our race to lose. On the last lap there were still seven away and we put one rider into the chasing rotation, then two – Optum were doing a lot of the work and we keyed off them.
The UHC presence at the front of the bunch on the penultimate lap was impressive.
We were conscious of not bringing the last five guys back too quickly or there would have been attacks coming in to the base of the climb. Coming into the last corner my team mate John Murphy placed me on Alex Candelario’s (Optum) wheel; his team mate, Ken Hanson was leading and I had Jesse Anthony (Optum) on my wheel with my team mate Lucas Euser behind him. On the first right hander, Candelario lost his chain – it was really bumpy and the same thing had happened to a lot of guys in the race. My mantra all through the last lap was; ‘don’t forget to change down before the right hander!’ I kept repeating it to myself. Hanson is a great crit rider so he went into that corner hot – about as fast as you can without falling off.
He looked round and expected to see Candelario pinned on but he’d gone when he unshipped his chain – as soon as he saw that he sat up, straight away. I still thought it was a little too early to go and looking back I could see that Lucas had lost a little bit of ground and we had a gap. Jesse Anthony had gone away a little so I clawed my way back to him but I still had my big effort in my legs.
With 300 metres to go Jesse began to flounder a bit, there was still a gap and I just couldn’t not take advantage of that – and made my move. I thought it would be closer; but I guess it’s easy to under estimate the toll that the distance, the heat and ten times up The Wall takes.
PEZ: Was the Wall as vibrant as ever?
The Wall is why I love that race – it’s an honour and a privilege to get to race in front of those fans. The Wall makes the race, it’s where the finish always should have been – it’s where the party is! We had the weather and the party – last time up there was like an energy vortex; it was deafening!
PEZ: Do we get to hear your watts?
I still have the fastest climb for the Wall, I had it last year but bettered it this year – on the last lap I averaged 690 for the last 1:16 with a heartbeat of 191.
PEZ: The Nationals – Brent Bookwalter tells us you had a ‘mechanical’ in the finale?
I don’t want to make excuses, but yes, I dropped my chain with around 600 metres to go. I went from third wheel to last then from 12th back to third; if the race had been another 10 metres . . . but I ran out of road. Whilst I don’t want to take anything away from Freddie or Brent – I did prepare thoroughly for it and my team mates worked so hard for me. It was disappointing. It’s a race which excites me and is always at the top of my list of objectives. You get to wear that jersey every day for a year…
It was a good course in Chattanooga, it gave everyone a chance; look at the result – you have sprinter and a climber in the first two.
PEZ: You had a ‘Euro Campaign’ earlier in the year – do you think that was a factor in your Nationals form?
I’d done a lot of good training before we went to Europe and that coupled with the European racing had to show benefits at some stage. But it was just so cold, there were only two or three days where you could wear shorts – most of the time I was in thermals. But I got back in one piece and like I say, the benefit had to show eventually – although I did catch flu and had a bad knee for a little while through racing in the snow!
There’s nothing like some tough Euro racing to bring on the form. Here’s Kiel in the break on Stage 1 in the Driedaagse van De Panne earlier this year.
PEZ: Tell us about your Gila crit win – has living at altitude in Boulder helped you for races like that?
It’s an atypical crit – there are 1,000 metres of climbing in it and the finish straight certainly isn’t flat! And I had what I believe to be the best criterium team in the world behind me. If you live at altitude then you have more power at sea level but you can’t train at the same wattage at altitude – a lot depends on the individual. We have a family cabin at 9,000 feet and it seems for me that the higher altitude I train at the better – but that doesn’t apply to everyone.
PEZ: What’s next?
I have the Tour de Beauce in Canada then I’m going to take a break before I ramp up for Utah, Colorado and Alberta, hopefully.
# With thanks to Kiel and UnitedHealthCare’s press officer, Wesley Mallette. #