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GLENDORA, Calif. (VN) – Tejay Van Garderen is learning as he goes this week at the Amgen Tour of California. The young HTC-Highroad professional defended his lead in the best young rider competition on Mount Baldy Saturday and said that the Sierra Grade summit finish on Wednesday taught him a lot.
On Wednesday Van Garderen led the best young rider competition and sat just 10 seconds out of the overall lead headed into the race’s first day in the mountains. When he tried to match the early acceleration from Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer, Van Garderen went over his limit. His chase companions, Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek), Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervélo) and Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) sat on the young American’s wheel until he faded. He would gut out the long false flats leading to the summit, but lose more than two minutes and his best young rider’s jersey.
He was devastated afterward.
“It definitely taught me to relax a little bit,” Van Garderen told VeloNews. “I think I can get too nervous and a little bit too gung ho when it comes to staying with the leaders. But then again, I was trying to win. Had I not done what I did, I would have been okay with getting fifth place and I wasn’t okay with that.”
When Horner took off low on the steep walls of the Sierra climb, he showed he was on a different level. Coming into the race, Van Garderen was confident and aiming for the gold leader’s jersey.
“I really thought I could beat Horner,” he said at the summit finish on Mount Baldy Saturday. “But I just have to learn to know my own body and what it’s capable of.”
Van Garderen showed midway up the brutal, HC-rated climb that he had taken on the lesson he’d learned above San Jose on Sierra Grade. When RadioShack’s Matt Busche pushed the pace over Van Garderen’s limit, he backed off, staying within himself. He found a group with Danielson and made contact with the Horner group three kilometers form the finish, but a Leipheimer acceleration shed him again.
“I wasn’t actually trying to get back on,” said Van Garderen. “I saw there was a mistake I made on Sierra Road trying to stay with guys like Horner and Levi. I tried to get on Tom (Danielson) and thought we could fight for the podium, but same thing. He was going a little bit over my pace and I had to back off a bit.”
Van Garderen again stayed within his limits and limited the damage on Mount Baldy. A day after coming back with a third-place ride in the Solvang time trial, HTC’s classification leader came across the line high above Los Angeles seventh, 1:29 behind Leipheimer and Horner, and moved himself up to fifth overall.
He came in hoping for an overall win. If all goes as expected in what should be a sprinters’ stage Sunday, Van Garderen will leave the race in fifth.
“I didn’t live up to the expectations,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a big task to try to win this race and I knew it was a long-shot, but it was the goal.”
In the build-up to the Amgen Tour, Van Garderen counted himself among the favorites and carried himself with the confidence to match. Will he change his approach?
“To be honest, the next time I go into the next race, the tour in Colorado or something, my goal will still be to win that and I’ll be with the same guys,” he said. “It’s still going to be a long-shot to try and do it, but that’s the only way to get better, to try.”