HTC-Columbia’s Tejay Van Garderen in line for 2010 Vuelta a Espana start

While the cycling world’s attention is on the Tour de France, American Tejay Van Garderen is preparing for an unexpected start at the Vuelta a España in September.

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While the cycling world’s attention is on the Tour de France, Tejay Van Garderen is preparing for what is an unexpected start at the Vuelta a España in September.

HTC-Columbia brass were impressed with Van Garderen’s third-place ride at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June and have agreed to let the hungry young pro make an earlier-than-expected grand tour debut later this season.

“His performance during the Dauphiné was great. Tejay really wanted to go to the Vuelta, so let’s see how it goes,” HTC-Columbia sport director 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.”

Van Garderen has been impressive during his rookie season with HTC-Columbia, riding to a top-10 at the Volta ao Algarve, second at the Tour of Turkey and third at the Dauphiné, the final tune-up race for the top stars heading to the Tour de France.

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 21-year-old remained in Europe following the Dauphiné, training in his home-base in Lucca, Italy, with U.S. racing pal Taylor Phinney.

Van Garderen says he won’t be going into the Vuelta just to learn.

“I’m excited to find out how well I can do in three weeks,” Van Garderen told VeloNews. “If I can have smooth sailing from now to the rest of the year, I am hoping I can do a pretty good Vuelta.”

Van Garderen will return to competition at the Clásica de San Sebastián in late July and race the Tour de l’Ain, GP Ploauy and some one-day Italian races before the Vuelta, which starts August 28 in Sevilla.

“They’re usually cautious about sending neo-pros to grand tours in their first year, but they’ve given me the chance to go to the Vuelta. The Dauphiné was a good test. They wanted to see how I recovered day to day. There’s a big difference from having a race with one big mountain stage to having three mountain stages in a row,” he said. “They can pull the plug on it at any time if they see it’s not the best thing for me. Knock on wood — I haven’t had too many mishaps so far this year.”

Van Garderen is hoping that run includes finishing the Vuelta all the way to Madrid on September 19.

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