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UTRECHT, Netherlands (VN) — BMC Racing uttered the “P word” on Friday. Not just once, but over and over again. Confidence is sky high, and the U.S.-registered team is buzzing that Tejay van Garderen can aspire to finish in the top 3 at the Tour de France.
“Is the podium possible? Absolutely,” BMC Racing general manager Jim Ochowicz said. “This is the best Tejay we’ve ever seen.”
Confidence is sky high following a strong showing at last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné, in which van Garderen held the leader’s jersey and finished second overall. BMC isn’t hiding its ambitions, and is bringing a strong, experienced squad to back the 26-year-old American’s bid for a top finish in the 2015 Tour.
“I believe it’s possible Tejay can finish on the podium,” BMC’s Manuel Quinziato said. “After how we saw him race at the Dauphiné, everyone is excited to work for Tejay. We have a very strong team here for the Tour.”
Last month, van Garderen delivered a morale-boosting performance at the eight-day Dauphiné across the French Alps, finishing just 10 seconds behind 2013 Tour winner Chris Froome (Sky). Froome won back-to-back stages to snatch away van Garderen’s race leader’s jersey, but BMC is reading the Dauphiné as a very good sign of things to come in July.
“We’ve never seen Tejay climbing so good. He stayed close to Froome, closer than he did before. In previous years, he would get gapped out 30 to 40 seconds. At the Dauphiné, he was only 10 seconds behind. And the way he’s riding now, maybe he can close that gap, and even counter,” Ochowicz continued. “I think if he can avoid trouble and get into the mountains, he can stay with the best. We’ll have the team to protect him.”
BMC is bringing a similar squad to what it had in 2011 when Cadel Evans won the Tour. Van Garderen will count on the likes of Samuel Sánchez, Damiano Caruso, and Danilo Wyss in the mountains, but the remainder of the team almost looks like a classics group. Quinziato will be joined in the trenches by Greg van Avermaet, Michael Schar, and Daniel Oss. Dennis Rohan will be a motor for the team time trial and play utility man.
“We’re one of the few teams in this year’s race that’s won this event,” Ochowicz said. “Tejay is a podium contender, and that’s our priority. We’ve prepared well for every stage, and we can handle all the factors that we’ll have to face over three weeks. I think Tejay can go head-to-head with anyone. Our job is protect Tejay, and then we think he can finish off the job in the mountains. Our primary goal is to make the podium.”
That’s setting the bar very high, especially against a deep field that also includes defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), 2014 Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana), and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). Behind the “Fab Four” are another half-dozen riders with podium potential.
It isn’t just BMC that believes in his chances, but also van Garderen, who is sounding more confident and mature than ever.
Last year, van Garderen fought through crashes and a bad day in the Pyrénées to equal his career best of fifth. This year, van Garderen said he’s enjoyed an injury-free approach to the Tour, something that’s going to make a difference in the long haul of a very demanding Tour route.
“Last year, I came into the Tour always on the back foot. That hip fracture in Romandie meant I had to try to fast-forward everything, cram in training, and put on fitness quickly,” van Garderen said. “This year, I’ve been able to go about things at a proper pace. I feel much more well-rounded and relaxed. My strong result in June confirms that I did the work properly. All around I feel a little bit stronger.”
Many pundits might not count van Garderen a legitimate podium favorite, but the buzz inside the peloton is different. Quinziato said the other teams saw how strong van Garderen was climbing during the Dauphiné.
“I was talking to [Michele] Scarponi on Astana, and he said the team was surprised by how strong he was,” Quinziato said. “The peloton always sees very quickly who is looking strong. For me, Tejay has the legs to stay with the top guys. Now we will work to keep him out of trouble the first week, and arrive to the mountains.”
With the 2015 Tour starting Saturday, Paris appears very far away, but the podium seems closer than ever for van Garderen.