Older, wiser Tejay van Garderen confronts the Tour with no stress, ambition for strong finish

Tejay van Garderen is ready for the double challenge of leading BMC for the first time at the Tour and riding for the podium

Photo: PD

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LEEDS, England (VN) — An older, wiser Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) confronts the 2014 Tour de France with new responsibilities and new maturity.

With 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans easing out of the BMC leadership role, the 25-year-old van Garderen steps into the captaincy at the Tour with realistic expectations about what’s in store.

“Based on past results, I’ve earned the right to be the leader,” van Garderen said Thursday in a press conference. “This is a stepping stone for other Tours. I am learning how to be a good leader. I am hoping to make a good showing, and we can tweak a few things. One year I am hoping I can win the Tour de France.”

Fifth overall in 2012, van Garderen rode as a protected co-leader with Evans over the past two Tours. BMC management made the call last fall to designate van Garderen as the outright Tour leader, sending Evans to the Giro d’Italia instead.

“I am honored that the team has shown the faith in me to lead the team,” van Garderen said. “It’s comforting to know the guys have my back.”

On the eve of his fourth Tour start, Van Garderen realizes this is his moment, the first of what he hopes is many as BMC’s captain in what will be a quest to win the Tour.

The Coloradan is driven to prove that his 2012 performance was no fluke, yet at the same time, realizes that the Tour is a beast unlike any other. His preparation for the Tour has not been ideal, including a crash at the Tour de Romandie, but he said he’s riding into the Tour healthy, strong, and motivated.

“There are some nerves, and some excitement as well. There’s a bit of confidence, but also some modesty,” he said. “I am not expecting to ride out of my skin, and drop Chris Froome in the first mountain stages. I don’t expect miracles. If I can stay consistent, calm, and ride within myself, I think I can ride really high into Paris.”

How far? Van Garderen refuses to pin a number on it.

“Every year is different. 2012 was a special year, and I’d be happy with a repeat of [fifth]. I want to prove to myself and to the team that I can stack up for three hard weeks of racing, that I can be a grand-tour rider,” he said. “If I say I want to be on the podium, and I get fourth, that would be a disappointment. I am not going to say that. I just want to see how far I can go.”

BMC brings solid support for van Garderen on all terrain. The squad includes four experienced, classics-type riders to protect him through the first half of the Tour, with Marcus Burghardt, Daniel Oss, Michael Schar, and Greg Van Avermaet. For the mountains, van Garderen can count on Peter Velits, Darwin Atapuma, Amael Moinard, and compatriot Peter Stetina, who is making his Tour debut.

Van Garderen admits he’s had to learn how to deal with the pressure that comes with being a high-profile rider in the peloton. As a neo-pro, a bad ride following some encouraging performances largely goes unnoticed. That changes as the stakes are raised.

“The most difficult part of the evolution [as a grand-tour rider] is to learn to deal with the pressure, to be able to realize that ‘pressure’ is something that is just made up,” he said. “Once your name gets out there a bit, they start noticing when you have a bad race, and it becomes a bigger deal. I’ve learned how to balance that, because at the end of the day, you’ve just got to focus on yourself. The legs you have in the final 2km of the climb, that’s what really matters.”

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