Van Garderen takes control in California, but can he keep it?

With two decisive stages ahead, Tejay van Garderen is in the leader's jersey and aiming for a solid TT and defensive riding on Diablo

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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AVILA BEACH, Calif. (VN) — After a stage 5 raid in the wind, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) is right where he wants to be, and the Amgen Tour of California is his for the taking.

Van Garderen’s in the lead headed into a time trial. If he maintains the leader’s jersey into Saturday’s crucial stage to Mount Diablo, he can ride defensively rather than attack on its high-elevation steeps. As it stands now, he’s up 42 seconds on Aussie Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff), and 50 seconds on third-placed Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman).

But van Garderen has been here before. Last year in Colorado, he slipped into the leader’s jersey after winning the second stage of the USA Pro Challenge in Crested Butte. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) displaced him the next day in Aspen, however, and eventually took the final overall, with van Garderen second by just 21 seconds. A year earlier, van Garderen led into the mid-race uphill time trial in Vail, but fell apart in the 10-mile test to hand the jersey to eventual winner Levi Leipheimer.

On Friday in California, van Garderen can inch closer to his first professional stage race win. Over 31.6 kilometers, the all-rounder can increase his lead over the GC men and contend for the stage win. The finishing climb up Metcalf Road gives him an edge over a true TT specialist like David Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) and even former TT world champion Rogers, and a pure climber like Acevedo should lose time over the opening 28km.

In Thursday’s leg from Santa Barbara to Avila Beach, van Garderen displayed a bit of cunning, making the RadioShack-forced selection in the crosswinds with contenders Rogers and Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Leopard). The riders shared work, and van Garderen said afterward that he wasn’t worried about the toll on his legs.

“Today definitely cost a little bit of energy, that’s for sure. But in my mind, I was kind of thinking, ‘Ok, Mick Rogers is here, he’s the best time trialer. As long as he’s turning, it’s ok for me to turn.’ So as long as we were keeping it even, he never missed a pull and I never missed a pull,” van Garderen said.

Friday’s time trial ends with a nasty climb that’s given riders trouble over which bike they’ll ride, or if they’ll take a bike change. Riders faced a similar decision in Vail in 2011, where Leipheimer and van Garderen each chose to ride a TT frame. On Thursday, van Garderen would not disclose his plan.

“I’m going to pass on that one,” he said. “It is a good time trial, and it’s definitely dynamic and it requires a lot of thinking, not just going out and riding hard.”

In the brutal uphill finish above Palm Springs in stage 2, van Garderen showed his climbing class among the field here, bleeding fewer than 20 seconds to Acevedo and distancing Rogers and Busche. He also showed restraint, not risking all to chase Acevedo when the two had already dropped the others. Van Garderen said on Thursday that he isn’t concerned about heading into Diablo, the hors-categorie mountaintop finish, with big time in hand.

“I feel very confident in my climbing ability to be able to defend on Diablo. I know that there’s Acevedo, who’s climbing really well, but I think I’m going to take a little bit more time out of him in the time trial. I don’t think he — I think I can hold his wheel. That shouldn’t be a problem,” van Garderen said.

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