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In the red jersey since the end of stage one, Kiel Reijnen essentially sealed victory in the King of the Mountains classification at the Tour de Langkawi on Saturday’s queen stage of the race.
Although the American still had to safely make it through the final stage in downtown Kuala Lumpur, his broad grin when talking about his situation showed that he considered the job essentially done.
“I am not a pure climber by any stretch of the imagination,” he told CyclingTips, “but there were a lot of climbs here that were short and steep and that certainly suits me.
“We said early on that it would be worth keeping an eye on the KOMs and it worked out that way for us.”
Reijnen moved into the lead in that classification when he got clear in a long distance move on stage one and picked up maximum points on each climb. He continued to push for primes as the race continued, going away again on stage three and extending his buffer in advance of the queen stage.
He also picked up a couple more points on Saturday.
The various breakaway groups that snuck clear also helped his task, with a smattering of riders also amassing the points on offer and preventing those behind from being able to mount a proper challenge.
Reijnen had originally made clear that he was chasing a stage win and his infiltration of the breakaway moves on stages one and three was a reflection of that. With sprinters having the same goal in mind and having the team support to close things down, those escape groups were reeled in.
As a result Reijnen didn’t get a chance to push for the type of victory he was originally looking for.
The mountains jersey is more than a consolation for that, but it is a measure of the 28 year old’s ambition that he still notes he wanted more.
“I always wanted a stage result here and I fell a little bit short on that,” he pointed out. “So I am leaving a little bit hungry.”
A rider with the UnitedHealthcare team since 2013, the Washington native previously completed for Jelly Belly and Team Type 1. His past career results include overall victories in the Tours of Thailand and Rwanda, wins in the Philly Cycling Classic in 2013 and 2014 and stages in the 2013 Tour of the Gila and 2014 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
He also took the sprints classification in the latter event.
Asked how his Langkawi success compared to his past showings, he said that others also came to mind as important.
“I have had a couple of really close calls at US nationals. That race is a really important one to me. Winning the home stage there at the Tour of Colordao in Aspen was a big deal.
“Wearing the yellow jersey there was definitely a really proud moment for me and the team.”
UnitedHealthcare’s performance in the Tour de Langkawi underlines how much the US squad has developed in recent years. So too its showing on the queen stage in protecting his KOM lead.
“I think this is confirmation of where the team is headed,” Reijnen said. “I think we can take a lot of confidence from the team being really cohesive. You don’t see it all the time on a stage like this, but it requires a lot of team work to keep the jersey safe.
“There were a lot of attacks early on and we had to neutralise a few of those because there were dangerous guys for the jersey in there. I could really count on the guys, which is important.”
The squad has been building each season, signing riders like Jani Brajkovi, a past top-ten finisher in the Tour de France, plus 2013 Vuelta a España stage winner Daniele Ratto.
It is pushing for a Vuelta a España invite this season and wants to ride the Tour de France in future years. Making a debut in a three week race is important for the squad and also important for Reijnen.
“Every year we seem to get bigger, more organised, more cohesive,” he said, describing how momentum has been building. “I think the results show that.
“I know for myself personally getting to a Grand Tour here in the near future is a really important goal. Of course I am looking to Rio for the Olympics and doing a Grand Tour would definitely help my bid for that.”
Like the rest of the team, Reijnen is fired up for a good season. His performance and that of the squad in Malaysia have boosted morale, as have other showings elsewhere.
The impression given is that the squad is a much greater force than in the past, and fully deserves consideration – and selection – for the top events.
“It is always good to start off with a result – it gives you confidence and gives the team confidence,” he explained, talking about how Langkawi will change things. “We had a really great race as a team down in the Tour of Dubai. We had two guys there in the top five in GC and second in the team classification.
“So I think we are getting a lot more consistent, especially when there are Euro riders and Euro racers involved. I know for myself getting more results in Europe is definitely an important goal this year.”