Hot start: Van Garderen keeps growing with each passing day

American Tejay van Garderen survives four perilous days at the Tour de France, largely thanks to a BMC team stacked with burly hard-men.

Photo: TDW

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CAMBRAI, France (VN) — Paris is still very far away, but four days into the 2015 Tour de France, it seems a bit closer for Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).

Through four very frenetic and dangerous days of racing, van Garderen is bubbling near the top of the GC, third overall at 25 seconds behind race leader Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step). He has made the moves, avoided the disasters, and ridden with renewed confidence in what everyone agrees has been an intense opening quartet of stages in the 102nd Tour.

“It’s still really early. I am happy to have avoided the pitfalls so far, we still have a long first week ahead of us, and two more weeks after that,” van Garderen said, still covered in dust after a cool-down at the team bus. “I just need to not get too high, not get too low, just stay the course.”

If van Garderen can maintain the course the way he’s opened the 2015 Tour, he might well end up with a very good view in Paris.

A quick review so far: 20th in the opening time trial, faster than all the “Fab Four;” safely tucked in the front group in the echelons when Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) lost 1:28; sixth up the Mur de Huy, taking time on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo); and happily alive and in one piece at the finish line in Cambrai.

Critical to his chances was a safe, trouble-free ride across the cobbles. Last year, van Garderen struggled in the rain and mud, losing more than two minutes to eventual winner Nibali, complaining that cobbles don’t belong in the Tour. Under drier conditions Tuesday, van Garderen said he hasn’t changed his mind about the cobbles, but he rode in at 24th with the lead group, not ceding any time to his rivals to maintain his excellent GC position.

“My team was incredible. They sat in the front. They are hard-hitting head-bangers. I barely had to lift a finger today,” he said of his BMC teammates. “These are tough guys. They’ll ride through a brick wall.”

Van Garderen is taking confidence from his team, and his teammates are also sensing that he is in very good condition.

“I feel more confident. My preparation has gone a lot better, and I am looking forward to the rest of this race,” van Garderen said before stepping onto the team bus. “[I need to] stay steady up to Paris.”

To back van Garderen, BMC Racing brought a very similar squad to what it had in 2011, when it brought a team packed with brawny, classics-style riders to help Cadel Evans win the yellow jersey. BMC Racing’s general manager Jim Ochowicz specifically brought riders such as Greg Van Avermaet, Daniel Oss (who rode with a bandage on his face after crashing Monday), and Manuel Quinziato to help shepherd van Garderen through these opening stages.

Strength in numbers is helping to bolster van Garderen’s confidence, and he hugged and thanked each rider as they arrived at the team bus.

Quinziato is one of the most-experienced support riders on the team, and he said the team is fully committed to pushing van Garderen as high up the GC as possible.

“Tejay was a bit worried about the pavé, because this is not his terrain, but he was confident in the team,” Quinziato told VeloNews. “We were six guys in the first 24 on the first windy stage [Sunday]. We used the whole team today, with [Samuel] Sánchez and [Damiano] Caruso working on the flats. No one saved any energy today.”

Quinziato repeated what many have already said; that surviving the opening nine days of this Tour with GC options intact is absolutely critical before turning into the Pyrénées and Alps.

So far, it’s working like a charm. On Tuesday, the entire team rallied around van Garderen, as Ochowicz described, “to build a wall around Tejay.”

“It’s vital for GC to be in good position. You cannot win the Tour in these stages, but you can lose it,” Quinziato said. “We are happy to have these four crazy stages behind our back. It’s still a long way to Paris, but we are doing things in the proper way.”

The upshot: Van Garderen is in ideal position after four frenetic days of racing.

The only rider ahead of him in the “virtual GC” is 2013 Tour winner Chris Froome. He’s hoping to keep that company all the way to Paris.

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