For van Garderen, the time to win California is now

American Tour hope is returning to the Amgen Tour with a loaded squad and an eye on his first professional stage race win

Photo: Graham Watson

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Tejay van Garderen may be America’s best active stage racer. He finished fifth at the Tour de France last year, and has three podium finishes to his credit at early season stage races this year alone.

But he has yet to win a major stage race as a professional.

BMC Racing hopes to correct that in California over the coming days, as van Garderen headlines an impressive field, but one in which he is a favorite, as many of the sport’s grand tour heroes are racing the Giro d’Italia or training at altitude. He’s coming off a training block in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, and he and his wife Jessica recently welcomed their first child, daughter Rylan.

“I have had to be flexible with the weather and with the new addition to our family, but I feel like I have gotten good work in and I am ready to race,” he said in a team press release.

The race begins on Sunday in Escondido, California, and finishes a week later in Santa Rosa. The route is noticeably difficult this year, with three uphill finishes, including a sharp, three-kilometer climb to the finish in the stage 6 individual time trial and the hors categorie ascent of Mount Diablo a day later.

BMC Racing director John Lelangue said the race would be brutal, but that the team was resolute. “The whole team is dedicated and devoted to helping Tejay on the general classification, but we will also look to win some stages if we can,” he said.

For van Garderen, the result could come as early confirmation of his form as he barrels toward the Tour de France, in which he and Cadel Evans are slated to act as co-leaders, with the initial push for Evans, and van Garderen lurking should the 2011 champ crack, as he did due to bad luck and illness in 2012.

A win would mark a natural progression for the Washington-born all-rounder. He gave key support to High Road teammate (and eventual winner) Michael Rogers in 2010, riding to 28th place. In 2011, he finished fifth in California, and won the best young rider classification. In 2012, he finished fourth in the Golden State, faltering on the Mount Baldy stage. So far this year, he’s finished in the top three at the Tour de San Luis, Critérium International, and Paris-Nice. His team won’t be found lacking, either, as BMC Racing will line up with one of the strongest units in Escondido.

“To win, you need a strong team and I think we have the strongest on the flats with guys like Philippe [Gilbert], Thor Hushovd, and Michael Schär, and on the climbs with Mathias Frank, Amaël Moinard, and Marco Pinotti,” van Garderen said. “We also have Brent Bookwalter, who can fill both of those roles.”

The Amgen Tour of California starts Sunday, May 12.

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