Caruso to fill GC gap at BMC Racing for 2015

With the upcoming retirement of Cadel Evans, Damiano Caruso will adopt a grand tour leadership role on BMC behind Tejay van Garderen

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DENIA, Spain (VN) — BMC Racing will lean on Italian talent Damiano Caruso next season to fill a grand tour gap while the team waits for a promising crop of young riders to develop.

BMC remains committed to Tejay van Garderen as its all-out GC man for the Tour de France, but the looming retirement of Cadel Evans and the exit of Spanish veteran Samuel Sánchez means the U.S.-registered team needs warm bodies for the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.

BMC sporting manager Allan Peiper believes Caruso, who joins from Cannondale for 2015, is just the man for the job, and has tapped him to lead possibly both the Giro and Vuelta.

“Losing Cadel is a void we cannot fill overnight,” Peiper said at a team camp. “Sporting-wise, we’re working on the future, so maybe we need to move some of our goals into other races, while waiting for another GC rider to come along or improve.”

The 2014 season was a year of transition for BMC, with Evans racing to seventh in the Giro and skipping the Tour in what was his final full season. Evans will retire after racing in Australia in February. Sánchez was a late-season pickup for 2014, and he helped carry team colors in the Vuelta, riding to sixth.

With both of them gone for 2015, BMC will be looking to fill in the gaps while van Garderen focuses on the Tour.

The 27-year-old Caruso might not look like the ideal candidate to step into the huge void left by Evans and Sánchez. Peiper cited some promising results, and believes with more support, the Italian could deliver more than a few surprises. Caruso rode to ninth in a highly competitive Vuelta in September, and was third overall at the Tour of Austria in July. He was also third in both the 2012 Tour of Britain and the 2013 Tour of Alberta.

BMC is hoping Caruso can step up in order to give the team more time to nurture such riders as Rohan Dennis, John Atapuma, and Silvan Dillier, among others.

“We have a top-heavy Tour team, so maybe we can tap Caruso for the Giro or the Vuelta,” Peiper said. “There is a danger of having too much youth, but to give them time to develop, we might have to sacrifice some results in some races.”

BMC trimmed its budget going into 2015, and surprisingly did not use the windfall that came with shedding big-money contracts of such riders as Evans, Thor Hushovd, and Sánchez to sign bigger names. Eight new faces join BMC for 2015, but none are established GC contenders.

Instead, the team is focusing on the classics, with Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet, supporting van Garderen in the Tour, and slow-brewing its promising crop of younger riders.

Peiper admitted the team wanted to keep Sánchez, but money became an issue. The 2008 Olympic champion will not return to BMC for 2015.

“We couldn’t find a middle point. The team wanted to keep him, and ‘Samu’ wanted to stay with the team, but the offers we made earlier in the season were not acceptable,” Peiper said. “So we found other riders to sign. That’s sometimes the game you play with managers.”

The 36-year-old Sánchez remains without a contract for 2015, and could end his career. Peiper said Sánchez provided a huge boost to the team in every race he started, whether helping Gilbert in the Ardennes or riding GC at the Vuelta.

“He’ll be sorely missed,” Peiper continued. “When he was in the race, it was like having two extra riders. I never really knew him before he came to the team, and I thought that the Olympic champion might be critical, but he was so supportive, so professional in everything he did. We all said we wished we could have worked with him 10 years ago.”

Peiper said there were discussions of having van Garderen race the Giro as well as the Tour, especially in light of longer time trials in the Giro and limited kilometers against the clock in the Tour. In the end, the lure of the Tour carried the day.

“The pinnacle for any team is the Tour de France, and Tejay is our only leader at this moment,” Peiper said. “Tejay also brought it up, and he thought maybe the Giro was better suited for him this year, so why shouldn’t he give it a shot? Sometimes it’s good to shake things up, but the risk factor of going well in two grand tours in a row is high. We’re going to go for it, and build up for the Tour as best we can with Tejay.”

With van Garderen all in for the Tour, BMC’s younger riders might get a chance to test their GC mettle in the grand tours sooner than expected.

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