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Last month, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) started the Tour de France with the final podium in Paris clearly on his radar. Those hopes evaporated in the Alps as he unexpectedly abandoned with illness.
In less than three weeks, van Garderen will start the Vuelta a España without that same pressure, but not without ambition.
“We don’t have any set goals for the Vuelta,” BMC Racing’s general manager Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews. “We couldn’t recon the climbs at the Vuelta like we did at the Tour. It wasn’t the focus of our season, like the Tour was. Tejay’s a competitor, and he’s going to go there, and try to pull off a few tricks.”
After his untimely Tour exit in stage 17 while riding in third-place overall, van Garderen will have a chance to redeem himself when the Vuelta starts with a team time trial in Puerto Banus on August 22. And he’ll be facing off against an elite field of GC favorites, most of whom he was racing against at the Tour.
Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), and Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) are all confirmed to race. Chris Froome (Sky) said he will decide within a week.
The 2010 Vuelta marked the BMC rider’s grand tour debut, and since then, he’s only raced the Tour, riding twice to fifth overall in five consecutive starts. His sudden illness and departure from the Tour offered up an unexpected opportunity for salvation at the Vuelta.
“It was his call to race the Vuelta,” Ochowicz said. “We had some discussions, but we left it up to him to decide. I think he made the right decision to race the Vuelta. He needs to get in there, and take another crack at a grand tour before next year’s Tour.”
BMC’s Vuelta lineup is not confirmed yet, but van Garderen will see solid support from such riders as Samuel Sánchez, who rode in a strong support role at the Tour, as well as Peter Velits, Amael Moinard, and Darwin Atapuma.
“Tejay will be in good hands,” Ochowicz said of the Vuelta squad. “Sánchez will be tutoring him a bit, because he knows every climb in Spain. We want [van Garderen] to enjoy the race. We’re not putting any numbers on it.” Sánchez finished on the Vuelta podium in 2007 and 2009.
Ochowicz repeated that van Garderen’s rapid departure from the Tour does not undermine his position as team captain. The imminent arrival of Richie Porte for 2016 has raised questions about how van Garderen’s role might evolve within the team, but Ochowicz said the team is still backing the 26-year-old Coloradan as its GC captain.
“He’s still the leader of the team. What happened at the Tour makes no difference. We just have to regroup from that,” Ochowicz said. “It wasn’t planned that he stopped the Tour. That’s why we’re racing the Vuelta, so he can get back in there. That fitness he had at the Tour doesn’t disappear overnight.”
How far van Garderen can go remains to be seen. Elite GC riders like to put at least one full grand tour into their legs each year, and just like Froome, who raced the Vuelta last year after abandoning the Tour, van Garderen will want to ride all the way to Madrid when the Vuelta ends September 13. Maybe the podium will once again be on his radar sooner than he expected.