BMC bets on Tejay: No Cali defense as van Garderen builds for Tour

BMC Racing will put its Tour de France support system behind Tejay van Garderen, but the process hasn't been an easy one

Photo: Tim De Waele

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — The future is now for Tejay van Garderen, and BMC Racing is throwing the full weight of the team behind his bid to win the Tour de France.

This season marks a changing of the guard at BMC, with longtime team captain Cadel Evans focusing instead on the Giro d’Italia, as the American squad formally anoints the 25-year-old van Garderen as the outright Tour leader.

“Tejay is the future,” BMC sporting manager Allan Peiper told VeloNews. “This is the year he gets his chance. It’s his team we’re building around him. The focus is on the Tour.”

The decision to “divide and conquer” the grand tours between Evans and van Garderen will end the debate about who will lead at the Tour.

And it marks a passing of the torch within the team hierarchy.

Evans, who turns 37 next month, is BMC’s franchise player, the rider who came to the U.S.-registered team in 2010 when it was just taking off, and helped establish its credentials. His history-making victory in the 2011 Tour culminated Evans’ long and sometimes bumpy journey from mountain biking prodigy to the world’s best cyclist.

As Evans moves into the twilight of his career, BMC is positioning van Garderen to carry the team’s yellow jersey hopes into the future. Following two sub-par Tours for Evans, with seventh in 2012 and a career-worst 39th in 2013, team management made the difficult, but inevitable decision to promote van Garderen as the team’s outright Tour captain.

“Tejay is now at a level where he can take responsibility,” Peiper said. “Last year, team management wanted to show their confidence in Cadel. He won the Tour, he is the reason BMC is what it is. The fact he rode to third in the [2013] Giro merited our support.”

The formal transition of power happened quietly during team meetings in October. Peiper, who took over running the team from former director John Lelangue after the Belgian departed the day after the 2013 finished, pulled riders into private meetings to discuss the change in strategy.

Peiper dropped the bombshell: Evans for the Giro, and van Garderen for the yellow jersey at the Tour.

BMC is promising full support in a push for Evans to win the Giro. In fact, it is replicating the Tour template, with a race-specific program and a dedicated squad of riders and support staff, but instead of racing for yellow, they’ve changed the color of choice to pink.

That means the team is all-in with Evans for the Giro, with no option on the table to later race the Tour.

“Cadel can win the Giro. That is a fact. You cannot do both [Giro and Tour], not at his age, not in this era,” Peiper said. “Realistically, he can win the Giro. Going up against guys who are there, it’s not realistic he can win the Tour again. … It’s time to pass the baton.”

Van Garderen, who joined BMC in 2012 following the collapse of the High Road team, is poised for more success in what will be his fourth Tour start. Following his breakthrough victories at the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge, his first outright professional stage-race wins after consistently knocking on the door, van Garderen will now up the stakes in a dramatic way for 2014.

“The original idea for Tejay to lead the Tour was already hatched, that this was a changing of the guard,” Peiper continued. “It was a little bit of a shock for Cadel. He never really sat down and thought about making the Giro his mission. For him, the Tour has been the biggest part of his life more than a decade. Letting that go wasn’t easy.”

Whether van Garderen can manage to reach the podium this year or win within five years doesn’t matter as much as the team’s full commitment to the 25-year-old American. Already fifth overall and winner of the best young rider’s jersey in 2012, he is viewed as a rider who has the skillset and ability to challenge for the yellow jersey.

“We’re in a building phase with Tejay right now,” said Peiper. “He is still only 25. It will be another five or six years before he would come to his peak. It took Cadel quite a few years before he won the Tour. With Tejay, we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground, and build the team for the future. Wonderfully, for us, we still have Cadel as an ambassador for the team.”

Peiper said the team has already built an infrastructure around van Garderen, with several key riders and staff members dedicated to him from the start of the season all the way to the Tour. The arrival of Peter Stetina and Peter Velits, two riders in whom van Garderen confides and trusts, will likely be heading to the Tour to ride in support.

In part to be closer to French culture and racing, van Garderen has relocated from Lucca, Italy, to Nice, France. BMC coach and trainer Bobby Julich, with whom van Garderen is working closely, also lives in Nice.

BMC has also created a new sports science division, with a half dozen new personnel dedicated to training and monitoring riders’ performances across the team.

“Tejay’s program is 100 percent going toward the Tour,” Peiper said. “We’re giving him the best opportunity. To say he is going to reach the Tour podium this year is not fair. It’s a gradual process.”

With the Tour becoming van Garderen’s singular focus, Peiper outlined a racing calendar that does not include defending his Tour of California victory.

“It’s just about the Tour,” Peiper said. “[California] wouldn’t fit. The focus required for the Tour, and the time that’s available for rest, for training at altitude, for recon of stages, and all the time that goes into it.”

Van Garderen will debut at the Tour of Oman in February, then target Paris-Nice as his first major goal for 2014. He might race some of the Ardennes classics and the Tour de Romandie before a short break ahead of the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour.

The die is cast. Van Garderen’s future and BMC Racing’s are tied at the hip.

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