Van Garderen gains ‘new level of respect’ as domestique

The American GC rider is helping his BMC Racing teammates and hunting for stage wins at the Spanish grand tour.

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SANTANDER, Spain (VN) — Tejay van Garderen pedals to the start line in the Vuelta a España and looks around at his BMC Racing teammates in red and black with a new level of respect. He says that not riding for the general classification and instead hunting for stage victories has changed his outlook.

The American has twice placed fifth overall in the Tour de France and competed at stage races around the world for the GC. In Spain’s grand tour last year, he lined up to fight for the overall and did so until a crash forced him to abandon.

Once the stage rolls out of town every day, he begins fighting to make the day’s escape in this current edition of the Vuelta. If unsuccessful, he immediately turns his attention to helping team leader Samuel Sánchez. It has opened his eyes.

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“Not going for GC, that’s a pretty big difference right there,” van Garderen said. “I’m jumping in moves from the beginning and that’s definitely different. I’ve been getting bottles and helping out the team so it’s a world of difference.

“Now I have a new level of respect for just about everything. Getting bottles is not as easy as it looks. Riding on the front is definitely not as easy as it looks. It’s definitely given me a new perspective.

“I definitely think riding for the GC is one of the easiest jobs in the world. You get waited on hand and foot and your teammates take care of you and shelter you through the whole stage, and all you have to do is go hard in the final. Yes, absolutely, this helps understand the work they do for me.”

Van Garderen had time to reflect on his new position. Tuesday, during a rest day training ride, they stopped at Sánchez’s home in Asturias and sat by the pool with a coffee.

After a “disappointing Tour de France” that resulted in 29th place, he wanted to approach the Vuelta a España differently. “I don’t want to ride anonymously,” van Garderen said. “I want to hunt for a stage win.”

Over the last 11 days so far, he has tried — so far unsuccessfully — to join the group that eventually becomes the breakaway. Teammate Ben Hermans succeeded Wednesday and rode alone on the final Peña Cabarga climb until stars, including eventual winner Chris Froome of Sky, buzzed by.

“I’ve been trying to get into a breakaway and I feel that my legs are coming around better than they were at the start. But it’s not easy,” van Garderen continued.

“I might be able to show some good legs in the coming weeks. A lot of people did the Olympics and the Tour, they might be a bit more tired than me.

“You have to have good legs, good timing, and good luck. If you wait and wait for one specific day, you might miss an opportunity. I’m going to try every day and hopefully I can get into one or two before the end of this race and go for victory.”

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