American Tejay Van Garderen ready for Vuelta a Espana debut

HTC-Columbia breaks its own rules to let the 22-year-old American start a grand tour. 'I'm not going to be a tourist,' the first-year pro promises.

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Tejay Van Garderen says he hopes to be a factor into the third week of his grand tour debut at the Vuelta a España.

For his Vuelta debut, Van Garderen is leaving his options open without putting too much pressure on himself.

“I’m really excited about the Vuelta. I hope I can be hanging in there for the GC,” Van Garderen said. “If I blow up after two weeks, well, that’s OK, too. I’ve never done a race this long before, but I hope I can do OK. It’s a good course for me. I am not going just to be a tourist, that’s for sure.”

Van Garderen, 22, will be making his grand tour debut after a sensational first pro season capped by third overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June. He returned to competition with the Clásica San Sebastián in late July and just missed the podium with fourth at the Tour de l’Ain.

Van Garderen’s performances during the first half of the season prompted HTC-Columbia management to lighten up their policy of not allowing professionals to ride a three-week grand tour until at least their second season in the pro ranks.

“His performance during the Dauphiné was great. Tejay really wanted to go to the Vuelta, so let’s see how it goes,” HTC-Columbia team manager Rolf Aldag told VeloNews. “Sometimes we are worried about putting new pros into a grand tour too early because they can really go too deep, but the Vuelta comes at the end of the season, so he can go straight into the winter and it won’t hurt him.”

Many see Van Garderen as a major player in future grand tours and Aldag said he has the right qualities to continue progressing.

“He has a lot of promise as a grand tour rider. He’s already very good at tactics, he’s obviously good in the mountains and time trials. It’s just a question of getting the rhythm of racing every day for three weeks,” Aldag said. “We were quite sure he didn’t have a tongue when he came to the team, because he never said a word in the first few months. But he’s fitting into the team very nicely and now he’s feeling comfortable and cracking jokes.”

The American will be part of an ambitious HTC-Columbia team that brings sprinter ace Mark Cavendish and climbers Kanstantsin Sivtsov and Peter Velits.

“Our first goal is to get an early stage win with Mark, and then we will see how it goes from there,” HTC-Columbia sports director Tristan Hoffman said in a team release. “He’s in really good shape and very focussed, to the point that he didn’t do any criteriums after the Tour de France. He’s going to the Vuelta for the first time and he’s taking it very seriously. He knows there’s a lot of climbing but he did really well in the mountains in the Tour de France and he will be looking to race as strongly in September as he did in July.”

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