Van Garderen delivers Pro Challenge victory with force

Tejay van Garderen wrecked the Vail time trail course on Saturday, setting up a title defense Sunday in Denver

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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VAIL, Colorado (VN) — Maybe it was harder than it looked for him. Maybe the rain got to him, or a relentless Garmin-Sharp team did. Maybe the one thing that unnerved Tejay van Garderen was that odd neutralization into Crested Butte.

But it’s been hard to tell.

Van Garderen, the defending USA Pro Challenge champion, has ridden a deeply composed race in Colorado, and by the time he came through the intermediate time check in the rain during the Vail time trial on Saturday, the writing was inked thickly upon the wall. This was his race, yet again, as he and his BMC Racing team proved much too strong for anyone to handle.

Barring catastrophe on the roads between Boulder and Denver on Sunday, van Garderen, 26, will defend his USA Pro Challenge title, easily. His lead now stands at 1:32 over Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson. The Garmin rider put up a blistering time of 25:19 in his own right, but wasn’t even close to van Garderen’s crushing effort of 24:26, a new course record here.

What’s scary is that he may have even been able to go faster. Van Garderen said he tried to keep things under control in spite of the merger of opportunity, weather, and crowds. He looked down out of the gate, and his power meter was reading 500 watts.

“With huge crowds, and so much adrenaline, you look down at your power meter, and you’re putting out 500 watts,” he said. He showed poise to back off, learning from the last two Vail efforts. He’s lost the lead here, and barely won, too, after fading late. This year, van Garderen put his Tour de France experience on the line and won… huge.

“The first time I did it (in 2011), it couldn’t have gone any worse. I went out way too hard. I misjudged my effort, and lost the yellow jersey. Last year, I can’t say it was bad, but you could see it from the split, I was 30 seconds up and at the line I was only four seconds up,” he said. “My cadence dropped and I was just struggling and barely held on. This year, I felt powerful all the way through… that definitely came with some experience.”

He was physically better than his peers here, and mentally tough as well. Danielson could see as much each day.

“I’m not really chasing him. The dream is that I’m chasing him. On this course he’s the best guy. I can’t see anyone in the world beating him here,” Danielson said. “Looking at his face [Friday], we’re shivering and hypothermic. And I looked over at him and he’s just having a good time.”

It did rain on the riders Saturday during the TT, but that curse was balanced with a gift: A tailwind that pushed them, a bit, up Vail Pass.

Van Garderen was all smiles after his effort. He’s proven the best, as has his strong BMC Racing Team. The race seemed his to lose from the onset, and he didn’t let it get away.

“My team is riding amazing, everyone is having a great time. I just love this race. Every time I have done it, it’s been a blast,” he said. “I’m just glad to be here. I hope this race sticks around, for the rest of my career, and beyond.”

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