Opportunity, challenge for BMC, Porte, and van Garderen

Will Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen be stronger together with BMC, or are their skills and ambitions too similar for just one team?

Photo: TDW

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Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen share similar skill-sets as GC riders, and for 2016, they’ll be sharing the same BMC team as well. Four days into cycling’s official trading season, this may turn out to be one of the most interesting deals of the year, and its implications for the two young GC stars could be complicated.

Richie Porte’s move from Sky to BMC Racing sets the stage for what might be a highly successful partnership with Tejay van Garderen, the emerging American Tour de France contender. The high-profile transfer raises expectations but provokes tricky questions.

Will the two budding GC contenders be able to work together? How will they balance their individual goals? And, more importantly, will it create a division within the team?

BMC Racing is clearly looking to bolster its GC base by signing the 30-year-old Tasmanian. As BMC manager Jim Ochowicz pointed out, the team doesn’t pack a pure sprinter, so it was looking to bring another GC contender to complement, not overshadow, van Garderen’s position on the team.

“Richie is a really great athlete, he’s a good team player, and he’s someone who can work with Tejay, and on his own leadership,” Ochowicz told VeloNews. “One person cannot cover all the GC races of the season. It’s a big plus for us all around.”

Both have strengths that complement each other — Porte and van Garderen are steady climbers and excellent time trialists with confirmed palmares — yet it will be interesting to see if these two can find a balance going into next year’s Tour de France without tipping over the boat.

Pluses for van Garderen

Some assume Porte’s arrival to BMC is a veto of van Garderen’s emerging role as outright team leader. BMC manager Jim Ochowicz emphatically stated that is not the case.

“Absolutely not,” Ochowicz told VeloNews. “We have all the confidence in Tejay. We’ve been talking about this since April, about bringing another strong climber for the GC. And now we have that person with Richie.”

During four seasons with Sky, Porte emerged as one of the best super-domestiques in the bunch, helping Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome win three yellow jerseys, while picking up some choice victories of his own. Of course, Porte isn’t moving to BMC to usher around van Garderen, but his presence will bolster the American deep in any grand tour where they race together.

Porte’s arrival will also take some of the pressure off van Garderen. While Damiano Caruso and Samuel Sánchez lead in such races as the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, neither is expected to deliver the way van Garderen is.

The rough is idea is that Porte and van Garderen will split the stage racing calendar between them. For example, Porte might race Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya, while van Garderen can target Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour de Romandie. And the only time they might race together would be the Tour.

That gives BMC winning cards in all the major races, and more options in July — less pressure on van Garderen to carry the team’s GC ambitions alone.

Pluses for Porte

Porte isn’t moving to BMC to just target smaller races. While ticking off wins like Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya in 2015 packs huge WorldTour points, on a personal level, Porte wants more than that.

It’s clear that Sky is backing Froome 100 percent. If it flicked the defending Tour champion Wiggins at the end of 2012 to throw the entire weight of its powerful organization behind Froome, Porte knew if he stayed at Sky, he would always be second fiddle.

At BMC, he will receive equal billing with van Garderen at races like the Tour, and be the team’s outright GC leader at just about any other race he goes to.

“And we will still need to look at the courses for the major grand tours,” Ochowicz said. “We will make decisions based on the routes, and which races best suit the riders. Richie is already a proven winner.”

Upside for BMC

With Porte, BMC signs a guaranteed GC captain for a major part of the WorldTour calendar.

“We don’t have a pure sprinter, like a [André] Greipel or [Mark] Cavendish, so when we’re not at the one-day classics, we’re a GC team,” Ochowicz said. “Between Richie and Tejay, we will have strong captains in nearly every stage race to go to. When we show up, we race to win.”

The team has its classics program covered, with Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet. Ochowicz also confirmed the team is not looking at signing a major sprinter for 2016, so with Porte and van Garderen sharing the GC load, the team hopes to be competitive in every major race it targets.

Porte will also provide a strong engine for team time trials, a discipline BMC, winner of the trade team world TTT title in 2014, takes very seriously.

One Porte + one van Garderen = one yellow jersey?

Can two riders working together do more than one rider alone? That’s what BMC is betting on for next year’s Tour.

Ochowicz repeated the notion that Porte and van Garderen racing together will only bolster the entire team’s prospects in the season’s major stage races.

BMC needs to look no further than Movistar to find its inspiration. The Spanish squad came to the 2015 Tour with two co-leaders, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, and ended up with a bonanza, finishing second and third overall, as well as winning the team prize and the white jersey. Quintana is being groomed as the team’s outright GC leader, but having Valverde helps spread the burden.

That’s how the presence of Porte could be a big boon for van Garderen.

“Ever since Cadel [Evans] retired in January, we knew we wanted to bring on another climber for GC,” Ochowicz said. “We when commit to a race, we want to put on a good show, and we want to be competitive.”

How it could all go wrong

So far, BMC brass have been discreet about what exactly they are promising Porte.

Some comments by Porte suggest that he thinks he’s going to have the chance to be outright leader at BMC. He told Aussie broadcaster SBS during stage 9 of the Tour, when he confirmed he was leaving Sky, that one of his main motivations was to get the chances he wasn’t going to have under Froome, saying, “But I’m ready, I’m in the prime of my career now the next few years, so I need to go and lead a team.”

The imminent arrival of the Tasmanian sparked reports that van Garderen was exploring his options. Though he’s under contract through 2016, van Garderen’s agent reportedly put out feelers with other teams. As VeloNews’ Gregor Brown reported, there was some contact with Trek Factory Racing, but it appears van Garderen will finish out his contract with BMC in 2016.

BMC has done a good job in the past balancing goals of riders with similar agendas. Gilbert and Van Avermaet share the classics campaign, while Evans and van Garderen rode in unison during the 2012 and 2013 Tours. Porte and van Garderen are both easygoing characters, and both have said they are friendly with each other, but every racer knows their career comes with an expiration date.

Van Garderen has been groomed as Evans’ heir apparent since his breakout 2012 Tour, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the arrival of Porte.

As Ochowicz confirmed, the team has yet to map out the 2016 racing, so it’s possible Porte and van Garderen might target different grand tours next season.

Since finishing fifth and winning the best young rider’s jersey in 2012, van Garderen’s had a bumpy road at the Tour, finishing 45th in 2013, fighting through crashes and illness to match his career-best fifth in 2014, before suddenly abandoning in the Alps this July while poised for a shot at the podium just five days short of Paris.

Van Garderen, however, still believes he can reach the podium in Paris, and even win the Tour some day. Porte, too, believes he can go farther than he has in grand tours. If they both end up in the Tour next year, which is highly likely, at some point, one rider will have to sacrifice his chances for the other. Fitness and luck quickly put everyone in their place at the Tour, but the seeds are there for possible tension.

Neither van Garderen nor Porte has been able to win a grand tour yet. Both are confirmed performers in one-week stage races, and both have unfulfilled grand tour ambitions.

The balancing act between Porte and van Garderen will be much more delicate for BMC brass than it was with Evans and van Garderen, when one was the aging champion and the other, the rising prince.

Both Porte and van Garderen want to be kings, and there’s only one throne.

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