Jens Keukeleire – Orica GreenEDGE
A very strong 2013 for the 25 year old Belgian, has left him well placed for an assault on the big races in 2014.
He started off the season well and finished 7th in Dwars Door Vlaanderen, bettering his 10th from 2012.
He had a solid Giro before peaking again in August. He won 2 stages in Vuelta a Burgos, and this really put him on the map.
A crash, in late August, robbed him of his goal of the Canadian 1-day races later in the year.
He will be back in the classics in 2014 and looks a good shout for a win. He has a very fast uphill sprint, quicker than most other riders.
I caught up with Jens, at an altitude of 2000 metres! He wasn’t up a mountain, but sitting in his altitude tent.
What did you think of your 2013 season?
It had it’s ups and downs. I was pretty happy with the 1st half of the season, as I had made a progression from previous years. Then came the Giro and I felt that I had taken a big step forward. The 2nd part of the season was going really good, with 2 stage wins in Burgos. I was actually working towards the Canadian races and other 1-day races at the end of the season, but my crash at the end of August meant I had to stop.
In Dwars Door Vlaanderen you finished 7th, how hard was the race?
The race was very difficult, due to the weather. In fact it made all the classics really hard this year. I had been at Milan-SanRemo, so only had 2 days to recover and this meant that I wasn’t in the best of condition. I felt good and made the final selection but the last 15km was really hard and I think that 7th was the best result possible for me, on that day.
You were flying in Vuelta a Burgos, finishing 6th on stage 1 and winning stages 2 and 3. Stage 1 finished with a very tough climb and Nibali drove the bunch for his teammate Simone Ponzi. How hard was the final climb?
The team hotel was close to the finish, so I had been to the climb to see it and liked what I saw. The teams were all going really fast into the bottom of the climb, with a sharp corner just over 1km to go. My positioning wasn’t great and I was around 14th at the corner. This meant I did a 200m sprint to get to the front. Obviously this left me tired and I didn’t have a sprint for the end. I tried my best to hang on and managed to finish 6th.
You made up for this on stage 2, dominating the uphill sprint and winning by a clear margin. What did you think of the stage?
During the stage I told the team I felt good and they believed in me. They did a great job of setting up the sprint and put me in a very good position. I managed to patrol a couple of late attacks and then I launched my sprint. I was really surprised at the gap I opened up and I could sit up with 150m to go. I think this was my best win!
On stage 3, it was a different type of win. It was another uphill sprint but a much closer race. What did you make of the stage?
Again, my team did a great job of controlling the stage and putting me in a great position for the finale. FDJ made the pace really quick on the final climb, but I managed to get the wheel of Roux. When I launched my sprint, I knew it would be all or nothing. I kept on thinking that I would blow, but everyone was feeling the same and I managed to just hold on for the win. The work of my teammates made this result very special.
You were then withdrawn from the race and flew over to ride the Eneco Tour. Was this prearranged?
At the beginning of the season I was told that I would ride Burgos, not Eneco. I was disappointed with this as the Eneco Tour goes through Belgium, and it’s a race I like. Luckily the team told me 2 weeks before Burgos, that I would race the first 3 stages and also do Eneco. It was a win-win position for me and I think I performed well in both races.
What is your ideal finish to a race?
I’m not slow in a normal sprint but I do prefer an uphill finish. The way I like to sprint means that it looks like I’m pedalling a gear too big, but it is the best for me. At present, climbs like the Mur de Huy are too steep for me but as I progress as a rider, you just never know ….
You are Belgian and have a love of the classics, but which one is your favourite?
Surprisingly it is Paris-Roubaix, even though it’s not Flemish! When I raced it for the first time, as an under 23, I was very excited and couldn’t wait for the race. When I raced in Flanders and the other classics, I was happy but not as much. So Paris-Roubaix is my favourite.
As your career progresses, do you see yourself developing into a stage race rider or a classics rider?
I know now that I’ll never win a grand tour! Both my climbing and TT skills aren’t good enough for these races. The smaller stage races could be an option, but they are still really hard.
Do you feel that you are ready to make a move to a new level in 2014?
Every Winter, when I begin to train for the next year, I notice an improvement in my capabilities. I have noticed it again this year! I don’t know why, but after riding a grand tour your body feels like it can do more. I felt this after my first Giro and again this year. My training has been going really good and I feel that I can make a move next year. I think I can challenge for some of the semi-classics but think that the biggest races might still be a touch too far. If I keep progressing, I hope to challenge for them in the future.
What races will you be targeting in 2014?
100% the Spring classics.
Will you ride a grand tour?
It would have been too hard to do the Giro this year (due to my race program), so we are looking at riding the Vuelta for the 1st time.
Is it right that you will start the season in Argentina, at the Tour de San Luis?
Yes, that’s correct. As soon as I crashed and had to end my season in August, I told the team that I would like to start my season early. We agreed that Argentina would be the best for me and I’m excited to be going.
Can we expect to see you challenging for stage wins?
I have looked at the profiles and think there are a few stages that I could challenge for. I spoke to my teammate, Pieter Weening, he said that it’s a very tough race and not easy to win stages. The local riders are very motivated to do well and their season starts earlier than ours. As it’s our first race, it’s always a shock to the body and it won’t be a walk in the park.
You have just finished a training camp in Australia, how did it go?
It went really well. The 1st week was testing and rides for the sponsors and in the 2nd week we did a lot of solid training. The weather was great and we managed to train on good roads too.
Orica GreenEDGE have signed some exciting young talent in the Adam Yates, Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves. What did you make of them?
I don’t want to say I was surprised by them, lets say I was impressed. They are younger than me but looked really strong on the climbs. I am looking forward to riding with them.
The course for the 2014 World Championship Road Race looks favourable for you. Is this a target for you?
The Worlds has always been a big target of mine and I would like to race it sooner than later. It would mean a massive amount for me to ride for my country and it would signal that I have made massive progress in my career. If I ride like I can, I will have a chance of selection.
This post is dedicated to my son Jude, who died 2 years ago today, aged just 5.