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Tejay Van Garderen got his first taste of grand-tour stage racing this weekend in Spain as the Vuelta a España kicked off in fine fashion for his HTC-Columbia team.
The 22-year-old American earned a trip to the winner’s podium after HTC-Columbia roared to victory in Saturday’s team time trial and he safely negotiated Sunday’s first road stage to Marbella to finish his first weekend of racing sitting fourth overall.
Van Garderen hopes to be in a very similar situation in three weeks’ time, but management at HTC-Columbia are saying nobody’s leaning on the promising American during his grand-tour debut.
“There is no pressure with him. He’s young, and we don’t want to put too much pressure on him at all. He’s here to learn,” HTC-Columbia sport director Tristan Hoffman told VeloNews. “Normally we like to wait one year before allowing a neo-pro to go to a grand tour, but he’s already shown he’s more than a normal neo. He’s had some really good performances, with the best riders, I think he deserves his chance.”
Hoffman said team management was hesitant about giving the rookie a shot at the Vuelta, but an impressive first half of the 2010 season, capped by third at the Criterium du Dauphiné and coupled with Van Garderen’s positive attitude, helped change their minds.
“After the Dauphiné, he was really pushing to go to the Vuelta. We were a little bit hesitant because he’s still young. We don’t want to kill him. But on the other side, he’s shown he’s a strong man. He took care of himself and he’s ready,” Hoffman said. “Also, if he finishes the Vuelta and he’s really tired, well, it’s the end of the season already and he can recover nicely.”
Van Garderen will have his work cut out for him in what’s a very challenging and mountainous Vuelta with a deep, GC field. Though all of last year’s top-three finishers are absent, riders such as the Schleck brothers, Vincenzo Nibali, Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre promise to make it a tough race.
Hoffman said Van Garderen will go as far as he can in the Vuelta, while always having in the back of his mind a reminder not to go too far. The young American will count on ex-pros like Hoffman to find that line.
“He’s confident, he’s motivated and he’s really excited to be here,” Hoffman continued. “He has the right attitude and he’s really nice to work with. I hope he has a big future, but we’ve seen many guys who we thought could make it and they didn’t. Just to make it for three weeks is not the goal for a rider like him. He’s not here just to follow and look around. He wants to be part of the race, to get into a breakaway, to push himself.”
Van Garderen is just part of a very strong HTC-Columbia team that should be a factor throughout the three-week Vuelta.
Cavendish is already securely in the leader’s jersey, but was surprised by Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ) in Sunday’s sprint finale.
“We have Mark here, there are a few stages for him. We have Kanstantsin (Sivtsov) here for GC, maybe Tejay, and a few guys for the breakaways. We have a strong team here,” Hoffman said. “I think we’re going to have a nice three weeks.”
Cavendish will use the Vuelta to hone his form for the world championships, where he will line up as one of the favorites for the rainbow jersey in Australia. Whether Cavendish makes it to Madrid when the Vuelta ends September 19 remains to be seen.
“It’s a perfect preparation for the worlds. There are two weeks between the end of the Vuelta and the worlds, so there’s plenty of time,” Hoffman said. “We will take it day by day, but the plan is to go to Madrid. There are some pretty hard stages in the end, he has to keep his speed in the legs. We want to do some good things in GC and win some stages.”