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Kiel Reijnen stepped off the black Trek-Segafredo bus to ominous skies in Tuscany before the start of Strade Bianche, his demeanor calm despite the high expectations for the team.
Though the Washington native has been a feature on the pro circuit since 2008, when he signed with the Jelly Belly Continental team, 2016 marks his first year riding for a WorldTour squad.
A talented all-rounder with stage wins at the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge, as well as at the hilly UCI one-day Philadelphia Cycling Classic, Reijnen is a rider suited for the classics. And though he’d raced Strade Bianche before, this marked his first time racing with classics king Fabian Cancellara.
Reijnen took note of the veteran’s experience — how he conducts himself on the bike, but also the steps he takes to keep the team focused on the goal ahead. “This is my first race with him, but when you are a leader of a team you know you have to bring the team together, and I think he does a great job of that,” Reijnen said.
While Strade Bianche was a big goal for Reijnen, he is focusing most of his attention on building his form for the Ardennes classics. He will head into the Ardennes alongside team leader Frank Schleck, who crashed heavily at Paris-Nice and was forced to abandon.
“So far, so good,” Reijnen said of the start to his season — and that was before he played a role in Cancellara’s victory, which would come five hours later. “The only race different I’ve done so far was Down Under, and that was a really nice experience. I really enjoyed that a lot. So far, everything is going as expected, and steadily building toward the Ardennes.”
At UnitedHealthcare, Reijnen’s home from 2012-2015, the team allowed the American to spend considerable time on the European racing scene, with starts at Milan-San Remo, Flèche Wallonne, and Il Lombardia, among others. The finish on the Manayunk Wall in Philadelphia, a race he won twice, is not unlike the finish on the “Wall of Huy,” at Flèche. The difference, of course, is the caliber of riders in the field.
Reijnen will use the Volta a Catalunya as preparation for the Ardennes. He said he thinks he has a chance for strong results in “maybe a stage or two” at Catalunya, held near his European base in Girona, Spain.
The second stage at Catalunya, from Mataro to Olot, has an uncategorized climb to the finish that is well suited for Cancellara, but the fifth stage may be Reijnen’s best chance. The 187km stage, beginning in Rialp and ending in Valls, has a category 2 climb before a fast descent to the finish. Reijnen’s climbing ability, along with his fast finishing kick, could see him standing atop the podium, as a reduced peloton sprinting to the finish seems likely.
Speaking about the Ardennes races, Reijnen smiles to himself, a love for the hilly spring classics shining through. The trio of races is “absolutely” one of his early season goals, before he heads back stateside for the Amgen Tour of California and U.S. national road championships.
The road nationals presents a particular challenge for Reijnen, who has expressed he dearly wants to wear the stars and stripes; he’s finished on the podium a staggering four times, without a win. This year nationals may be more difficult, however, since only he and Peter Stetina will be representing Trek-Segafredo.
Having made a home in Boulder, Colorado, during his time racing for UnitedHealthcare, Reijnen sighed heavily when asked about the cancellation of the USA Pro Challenge for 2016. “It’s rough,” Reijnen said. “It’s my adopted home race, so yeah I’m bummed.”
When one door closes, usually another opens, as is the case for Reijnen. The absence of the Pro Challenge has opened up the opportunity for Reijnen to toe the start line at the Vuelta a España. While his schedule at UnitedHealthcare gave him a solid base of European racing, the team never received a wildcard invitation to a grand tour. Reijnen said he hopes to have a shot at a three-week race.
“Hopefully the Vuelta now, with Colorado out,” Reijnen said. “It’s a long way off, lots of things change in cycling. We’ll see.”
As Strade Bianche reached its climax, Trek-Segafredo was put under pressure. Etixx-Quick-Step, BMC Racing, Team Sky and Astana all had riders in a five-man breakaway. Reijnen drove the front of the peloton with Cancellara sitting comfortably in second position. The gap to the break began to shrink, Reijnen’s form clearly coming along nicely. He descended into the finish line at Il Campo a distant 59th,
After crossing the line, Reijnen weaved through the throng of photographers blocking the finish as his teammate popped the victory champagne. Exhausted and covered in dirt from the day’s battle, Reijnen slumped over his bike, catching his breath before taking a soda and making his way back to the team bus, the look of exhaustion washed over his face. His mission, however, had been accomplished.