Jumbo-Visma prepares for Giro d'Italia with Kuss, but without Kelderman
The Giro d'Italia is a primary goal for Team Jumbo-Visma and therefore requires optimal preparation without concessions. On the Teide, a volcano in Tenerife, the team is preparing for the Italian stage race under Head of Performance Mathieu Heijboer. An interview with the 41-year-old coach on dedication, perfectionism, eliminating risks and the eight-man Giro squad.
The whole squad is training at altitude on the Teide. Not just the leader. Why is that?
"It makes sense to send riders with specific goals to train at altitude. We did that in the past. In the last few years, we have started to prepare for big goals with the whole team. We have been doing this for several years in the run-up to the Tour de France and with the classic core. This year, the Giro is one of our main goals as a team. With such a main goal, everyone on the team should be well-prepared."
What is the thinking behind such optimal preparation?
"As far as we are aware, training at altitude is still the best way to get physically ready for a race. But we look beyond physical preparation. For example, we also look at building a tight group. It's not just about training. It's also about strategy, tactics and having the same goal. These are all aspects that are very important to us."
Will there be a delegation from the coaching staff?
"Sports director Marc Reef is in Tenerife with the boys. That's because of the tactical preparation and the need to work as a unit. There have been a lot of discussions beforehand, especially with Primoz Roglic as the leader. Merijn Zeeman decides on that. Merijn, Grischa Niermann and Marc go through the strategies with the group and the riders individually. This approach is in line with our other main goals for the season. So we are prepared in all aspects to hopefully reap the benefits in May."
What are the conditions like?
"They are good in Tenerife. Other places are not really passable at this time of year. The temperatures in the Alps and the Sierra Nevada are not ideal, and there is probably still snow. A lot of the competition will also be on Tenerife."
Will that affect the dynamics between the competitors?
"You can't avoid paying attention to each other. Soudal-QuickStep, for example, is also in Tenerife. We will look at each other with mutual interest. But at the end of the day, professional collegiality always prevails. During training, Primoz and Remco Evenepoel will undoubtedly behave normally towards one another. In a perfect world, we would work in complete isolation without distractions. That's just not realistic. Everyone wants that, but it's just not possible."
What are the training days like in Tenerife?
"We alternate between interval training and endurance training. We also put a lot of emphasis on the time trial with Primoz. We also recently went to the wind tunnel to work on details."
The Giro selection consists of eight riders. So there are eight riders at the training camp?
"We are there with nine riders. Thomas Gloag is also there. He is there primarily for his personal development. He can train at a high level and get used to how the team works at altitude. Of course, we hope the eight riders we have in mind for the Giro do not have any bad luck in the coming weeks. But we also know that bad luck is often just around the corner. Then Thomas will be ready to step in as a replacement."
During the team presentation in December, the first contours of the Giro team were already clear. But there has been one notable change.
"That's true. Wilco Kelderman was named Primoz Roglic's first lieutenant. Unfortunately, Wilco's crash in Tirreno-Adriatico has had the necessary consequences. He is currently not fit enough to take part in our altitude training. This means that he will not be optimally prepared for the start of the Giro, so he will be replaced. A difficult decision, but the only right one. It's better to decide early than to find out too late that it won't work."
Who will replace him?
"Sepp Kuss will take Wilco's place. Very few riders can ride with the best as a domestique. We put Sepp in that category. He can be a decisive factor in the high mountains. With Sepp, Primoz has an absolute top domestique who can stand by him for a long time. He has already demonstrated this several times during the Tour and the Vuelta. They are a good duo. Although losing Wilco is undoubtedly a setback, we'll be as strong with Sepp."
What will the rest of Wilco's season look like?
"The good thing for him is that the time pressure is off for a while. We didn't want to put extra pressure on him by making it a race against the clock. That implies that he has all the time necessary to recover and pursue new goals. To prepare for the Tour of Switzerland, he will join the Sierra Nevada training camp in May."
What do you think of Primoz's current form?
"He's been great the last few weeks. We obviously like that. Primoz has once again astounded us, as he often does. He took home three stage victories in Tirreno, but his talent made it clear that he could and ought to perform even better before the Giro. He obviously digested that race very well because not long after, he rode at a very high level in Catalonia. He surprised us with that top level. In December, we believed that he needed time to return to his peak performance. Now we are confident that he will reach that level in the Giro. Any doubts we had vanished in March."
There are seventy time trial kilometres in the Tour of Italy. Will they decide the final classification?
"It will not be decisive, but it will play an important role. The mountain stages will be important as well. Differences of several minutes will occur, particularly in the last week. Strategy and tactics will also play a role. It will be an exciting stage. We have been working on it for months and are looking forward to it."
Giro d'Italia selection