A historic and essential member of Arnaud Démare’s lead-out train, Ramon Sinkeldam will evidently be alongside the former French champion on Friday at the start of the first Grand Tour of the season. On the Giro, the Dutchman and his teammates have only one desire: to find their way to victory again. They certainly failed to do so in 2022 up until now, but it hasn’t affected their confidence nor their determination.

Ramon, how do you feel a few days before the start of the Giro?

Physically, I was still a bit tired at the beginning of the week following our altitude training camp. I also trained hard last weekend, but I’ve had a few days of recovery since then and I should be completely ready for the Giro. Everybody in the team is looking forward to it since the start of the season was not what we wanted nor expected. We have to, and we want to perform and win a race. There is some excitement, as always before a Grand Tour, and a bit of nervousness because we have goals to fulfill. I think that’s everybody’s spirit.

“It was work, not holidays”

Looking back to the team’s successful 2020 Giro, what do you remember?

On a personal note, it was one of my biggest disappointments. I had stomach problems before and during the Giro, and it affected my recovery. Before the race, I took some rest and felt strong and fit, but since you don’t recover at all from the efforts, you go down quite early. Arnaud was winning and the team was doing awesome while I was struggling with myself. That was really frustrating. Of course, you have to be happy for your teammates, but on the other hand, you know that you are useless. That was a hard time for me, although they also felt sorry for me and were not blaming me for anything. I’ve done a few Grand Tours where I achieved a lot with my team, but in this 2020 Giro, the whole team was doing great, and I wasn’t. It was a bit of mixed feelings.

What goal have you set for yourselves on the upcoming Giro?

We must win at least one stage, but at the same time, there are only four real sprint stages. You don’t have eight chances like you can have in other years. It is a hard Giro for the sprinters, I believe. There are certainly a few hard stages where a sprint is possible, but that would be with a select group of riders. I think Arnaud will be strong enough to be there, but I will not. As a train, therefore, we have to go full on in the four proper sprints.

You spent two weeks with Arnaud on Mount Etna. What was it like?

There were just Arnaud and me. Miles got sick before, and Kono did an altitude camp in Sierra Nevada. On the Etna, we also had a trainer, a physiotherapist, and a nutritionist for five days. It was a really small training camp. It’s a different feeling than when you are with thirty guys in Calpe in the winter. We enjoyed it though, and we knew what we were working for. We trained all around the Etna, but we slept at the top, where Tuesday’s stage finish is located. We did a lot of altitude meters, some hard efforts, some sprints. Flat training is not really possible there, but I think we had a good, mixed program. We were really focused on training. The atmosphere was good, but it was work, not holidays. If you’re two weeks at the top of a mountain with nothing to do, and without your family, it’s certainly not a relaxing time.

“We never were super good all together on the same day”

Working was the watchword then.

The goal of the altitude camp was to be as physically ready as we could be for the Giro. I think you need that kind of camp nowadays to be really fit. The level is so high that everybody actually does it. If you don’t, you’re running behind. We now wait to see the effects from it. On Monday, I did not feel fresh, but a four-day rest should be enough to get that boost. They say that you should get this feeling about one week after the training camp.

What can you tell us about the start of the season for Arnaud’s group?

I would not say it was a wake-up call this spring, because that would mean that we were sort of sleeping. We were not. It’s just that we didn’t get to the point of winning races like we should. The whole spring season was quite frustrating for us. We know, and we knew, that we are able to win. That’s not even a question. We did not lose faith or confidence. It just did not work out as we wanted. Maybe we were not aggressive enough at some points, but it comes down to such small details in the final… Everything has to fall into place at the right time.

What were these small details?

We know what we are capable of, and we know what Arnaud is capable of, but we also know how he needs to be led out to better perform. So, you can’t drop him with two kilometres to go, wish him good luck and expect him to win. We need perfect teamwork to go for the win. It was also up to us, and we were not always there. Sometimes, I was super good, and some guys were not. Sometimes the other guys were super good, and I let them down. We never were super good all together on the same day. Every day we made a little mistake, and the level is now so high that a little mistake can be too much. We did only one perfect launch for the sprint, on Tirreno-Adriatico, and Arnaud got beaten by Caleb Ewan. You can be beaten by someone who’s faster or stronger at the finish, that happens. However, our goal is to put him in the best possible position. If we don’t achieve this, then we fail our job. If we put him in the best position and he doesn’t win, we can still be happy with our work.

“We are all confident that we can make it”

How will the group turn things around?

We did talk about our failures, and I think we will do it again in the next few days to line everybody up. However, talking only about that doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t need to be this negative spiral that puts us down… We just need for everything to come together, and that can happen in any stage. If Arnaud had won the sprint against Ewan, it could have solved everything. If I hadn’t not made a mistake in whatever final in Tirreno, it could have solved everything. Every race is a new chance. We just need to click into the right momentum again.

Does experience help you to deal with this situation?

Absolutely. I saw a statistic last week that said I had been part of one hundred wins in a sprint, and so did Jacopo. Of course, we lost a lot of them as well, but we both did so many finals and so many sprints preparation… It doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to win again, but it means that you know a fair bit about the sprint. Not even counting how many sprints has Arnaud won in his life. As I said, we are fully focused on the Giro. We pointed out the stages where we want to win, and we have to do it. That’s it. We are all confident that we can make it the next few weeks.

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