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SAN JOSE, Calif. (VN) — Moments after climbing his way to victory in stage 6 of the Amgen Tour of California on Friday, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) took his newborn daughter Rylan into his arms and onto the podium atop Metcalf Road, red lipstick kisses languishing on his cheeks, a wide smile upon his face.
It’s his bike race in California now, and he knows it. Van Garderen, after a sterling time trial performance here on a breezy afternoon, may be growing up right in front of the cycling world. All told, he won the 31.6-kilometer time trial — with a steep finishing climb of about 10 minutes — by 23 seconds over Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) and, more importantly, put 1:05 into Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff). It was exactly what van Garderen needed to do, and without reservation he took the Amgen Tour into his hands.
“It’s incredible,” he told reporters after the stage. “I really couldn’t have asked for a better day.”
Van Garderen now has 1:47 in hand over the second-placed Rogers, and 2:57 over Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge) in third. Should he hold on up the slopes of Mount Diablo on Saturday, van Garderen will win in California, earning his first-ever professional stage-race win to complement a fifth-place finish at last year’s Tour de France.
“It’s going to feel incredible. I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, but I’m ready to win, and I think it’s about time,” van Garderen said. “I think now I’m finally mature enough to pull through to the end. I think I’m ready to do it.”
Most riders would kill for the results sheet of van Garderen. The young all-rounder has won the best young rider classification at the Tour de France. In 2011, he finished fifth in California, and won the best young rider classification here. In 2012, he finished fourth, faltering on the Mount Baldy stage. So far this year, he’s finished in the top three at the Tour de San Luís, Critérium International, and Paris-Nice.
It’s seemed, and has for some while, that it’s just a matter of time for the 24-year-old.
“I’ve known Tejay since he rode with HTC in 2010, and I saw his talent straight away. You knew he had a huge future; he is that kind of athlete. Certainly as a stage race rider, he’s made huge steps in the last few years, and especially in the Tour de France last year,” said Rogers.
It was van Garderen who gave up a wheel to then-teammate Rogers in the second stage of the 2010 Amgen Tour and kept the Aussie in contention for his eventual overall win.
BMC Racing director John Lelangue said the win was something van Garderen needed to continue his progression.
“He has come so close on big races. We knew he was getting better and better. But winning his first stage race — that’s a good sign in the natural progression and his future goals,” Lelangue told VeloNews. “He’s a real leader with team around him … it’s really a big step forward. But we first have to win this one first.”
Van Garderen will have to defend the yellow upon his back on Saturday, as the peloton will finish atop Mount Diablo, the hors-categorie finish climb, and the only thing in his way now.