CyclingPub Interview: Stef Clement brings experience and tranquility to LottoNL-Jumbo
Feb 06 2017 11:31 am CET

CyclingPub Interview: Stef Clement brings experience and tranquility to LottoNL-Jumbo
CyclingPub Interview: Stef Clement brings experience and tranquility to LottoNL-Jumbo
SUBSCRIBE TO RSS FEEDS

STEF CLEMENT
TEAM LOTTO NL - JUMBO

At age 34 and going into his 12th season as a professional cyclist, Stef Clement is one of the most experienced riders in the peloton. The Dutchman returned to Team LottoNL-Jumbo ahead of this season as one of the team’s main reinforcements for the mountains and, in particular, Steven Kruijswijk’s chance of success in Grand Tours.

We met with Clement during the team’s recent training camp in Spain. His hat put on backwards, which appears to be a personal trademark for the rider, he looks relaxed and talks easily about the experience gained at the now defunct IAM Cycling, his role at LottoNL-Jumbo and the ways cycling has changed throughout his career.

It took some time for you to find a new team for this season. How did you and Team LottoNL-Jumbo cross paths?

There's always some time between finding each other and signing a contract. We found each other quite fast, especially because Steven (Kruijswijk) had a very good Giro and extended his contract, which meant that reinforcements were needed. I had always indicated that I was open to a return. I didn't leave this team because I was tired of it but because I wanted to try something else. So we were in touch quite early but of course there's the business aspect and you want to consider your options. Then you have to discuss the numbers and then it takes another while for it to be announced to the public.
Text continues below the gallery (hover on the photo to browse)

Stef Clement, Lotto NL-Jumbo (Spain 2017)
Photos by Mary Cárdenas / CyclingPub.com

What was the atmosphere like at IAM Cycling in the last few months of its existence?

Actually really good. We were performing well. Of course it was a shock in May, when we were training at altitude and we heard that the team would stop. That was a tough moment, especially for the Swiss guys that had spent four years at the team. And it's harder for the staff as well because they have no way to prove themselves. We always have the sportive component. But things went well in the Dauphine, Switzerland and the Tour. The problem was that everybody was very focused on the next year and that things just fizzled out. We would even get emails asking whether we wanted to buy a car because they were being sold. The same applied to other things as no new orders were being made anymore. It's strange to know that it doesn't exist anymore this year.

What have you been able to learn in these two years at a foreign team?

I had already earned some foreign experience before. Going there, my idea was to be in a winning position more often. When I got in touch with IAM they were a Professional Continental team. Only when I visited Switzerland in October (of 2014), they told me that they would be a WorldTour team the next year. So my plan was basically gone. But it did allow me to ride the Tour twice, without too much trouble. With Matthias Frank we managed to finish in the top ten but not in the way I was used to, which was to limit the damage. We really rode to win.

I also wanted to learn from the way the group functioned. Here we were always used to the fact that we were mostly Dutch and the rest just had to adjust. At IAM we came from many different places and we all adjusted to each other, which worked well too. You learn from that as well. Training is always pretty much the same. I reckon that we were on the right track here and that's something you also realize when you take a look elsewhere.

Does that mean that you deal with the foreigners in a different way, now that you have this experience?

I do think so. I think I'm more aware that if there's a foreign guy at the table you try to speak English and try to include someone. My level of English is pretty decent and I can follow French and German, but when I was training with those guys that spoke Swiss German, I did feel a bit lost.

"In the second half of the Tour I believe I was the fastest after Chris Froome. They calculated that."

In the past year you finished 18th in the Tour de France. Was that something you thought would be possible?

I never really thought about it. There are different ways to finish in the top 20. You can also try to hold on, which I think is something I only did in the last two days as I just couldn't do anything else anymore. But until then I actually won a bit more time than I had lost. It had to do more with the offensive way of riding and forming part of a few successful breakaways.

There was only one day on which I lost a lot of time. In Paris I reckon I was 37 minutes behind and 33 of those were lost on one day. In the second half of the Tour I believe I was the fastest after Chris Froome. They calculated that. That doesn't mean that I was the second-best rider of the Tour, after Froome. The amount of time you get in a breakaway is also a matter of luck. When you ride for the stage it doesn't matter whether you have ten seconds or four minutes at the end. The sprint is still the same.

"I kept a low profile and we didn't even speak until after the Tour, simply because I didn't dare to."

Steven Kruijswijk had influence on your arrival. What did that mean to you, that confirmation?

That was very nice. It's a mixed feeling when you're on a mountain in the spring and your team announces that it will cease to exist, and on the other side of the border he's winning the Giro d'Italia. In that situation you're in no position to even say anything to him. Normally you're friends but to send a message now, or to call him, was difficult as it could be taken the wrong way. So I kept a low profile and we didn't even speak until after the Tour, simply because I didn't dare to. So many people wanted something from him, which was a new experience for him. So it was nice to hear from our management that Steven said that I was high on his list of guys that he wanted for the next season.

What do you think about his chances for the Giro?

The most important thing is that we don't feel the pressure from the outside. We know that Steven will do everything possible to start the Giro in top shape, and the rest of the team will do the same. But we can't influence how strong the opposition will be. If three or four guys are stronger, which I think is the maximum if I look at the list of participants, in the worst case you may finish fifth. But there are different ways to finish fifth. You can finish fourth the way he did last year. And I hope he doesn't finish fourth this year but if he does and it's the right spot, you have to be at peace with it too.

"The team could also just sign four 24-year-olds that can climb better than I do but miss the experience to do so for three weeks."

What will be your role in the Giro team, also considering the mental aspect?

There's that as well, although Steven fortunately has a strong mentality. I just have to make sure that everything is always ready for us to defend our own position, whether it is the Pink Jersey or a battle for the podium. That's what we aim for, to be able to fight for a podium spot until the last moment. It can't happen that we are seven or eight minutes behind the podium when everything actually went well. So we have to avoid that kind of situation. To do so you need a certain peace of mind that you can only get from experience. The team could also just sign four 24-year-olds that can climb better than I do but miss the experience to do so for three weeks.

This Giro, being the 100th edition, is particularly special. Does that mean anything to you?

Not really. The Giro celebrated Italy's 150th birthday in 2011 and we travelled through the entire country, which I believe they will do again this year. That means that we will spend a lot of time in the bus and we will have to prepare for that and see how we can use that time to our advantage and make it as pleasant as possible. Whether it's a special edition or not, means little to me.

You're one of the most experienced riders in the peloton. Do you think you will want to function as a kind of mentor to younger guys?

It has to be part of your personality to look around you. For me it is but other guys my age may be more focused on themselves, which is fine too. You also have to sense whether the younger riders are open to it and allow everybody to do their own thing. It's in my character to offer, but if it doesn't get accepted it's perfectly fine as well.

What do you think changed in cycling as a whole throughout your career?

Time trials are an example. I was lucky that only about 25 riders focused on them when I started so if you made the effort you could get results. But now everybody goes to wind tunnels and gets experts and good bikes. So it's harder to get results as a time trialist if you don't have the biggest engine. I don't think I got worse myself but the rest just got better.

Apart from that, I reckon cycling got a lot cleaner. On the other hand I also profited from it at the time. After riding behind those tuned mopeds in the Giro d'Italia, only being able to follow, you could also strike blows in the smaller races that followed because your engine got so much bigger. You have to make the best of the situation. Of course it's bad that I had to ride with cheaters for some time but it's not something I could influence.

Small teams don't exist anymore either. There are teams with small budgets and big budgets but small teams are no longer there.

"I reckon that people have more different interests now thanks to the internet while in the past many cyclists only knew about cycling."

Do you think the atmosphere changed as well?

I don't know. I reckon that people have more different interests now thanks to the internet while in the past many cyclists only knew about cycling. They would maybe read a comic or watch TV and that was it. Now you always have your laptop, tablet or phone on you. The downside of that is that everybody always has that stupid thing in their hands so you have to make agreements with each other to ensure that you actually talk to each other as well on the bus.

Do you see chances for individual success in this season?

I'm sure those occasions will arise but right now it's not a priority. At the moment we just have to focus on the Giro and individual chances aren't so important. I don't get judged by them either. I know that a chance will come once or twice in a year and you have to try to take it. It would be great if I could win a race but it's not an objective.

By Jonathan Roorda

Photo of Stef Clement by Mary Cárdenas / CyclingPub.com





COMMENTS