Van Garderen likes his chances in Tour de France

The American finishes second in the Critérium du Dauphiné behind Chris Froome

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The Monday morning quarterbacks are dissecting the results from the weeklong Critérium du Dauphiné. No matter how you dissemble it, one thing is crystal clear: Chris Froome (Sky) won an exciting, down-to-the-wire edition that bodes very well for his hopes of a second yellow jersey come July.

The other conclusions? Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) looks like he’s on the same trajectory as in 2014: one day hot, the next cold, with an “all-in” bet for July. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), both easing back into competition, seemed far from their best. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), and Louis Mentjes (MTN-Qhubeka) all reconfirmed they are young riders whose collective futures are here and now.

And for Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), who came enticingly close to the biggest stage win of his career? While it might seem a bit of the glass being half-full, or half-empty, for van Garderen, the takeaway was also very clear.

“Chris is a fantastic rider. He’s won so much in this sport. He’s already won the Tour. He’s obviously hard to beat but we’ve seen this week that he’s not unbeatable,” van Garderen said. “I need to step up a level and play some tactics. It seemed to be just me against him in this race.”

Indeed, the eight-stage race across the French Alps that so often provides tantalizing glimpses of who will be on for the Tour de France shaped up to be a showdown between Froome and van Garderen. It was a yo-yo battle to the end, with both taking stage victories (van Garderen with the TTT and two second places), and Froome claiming his second Dauphiné overall inside three years thanks in part to the 10-second finish-line bonus in Sunday’s finale, the exact winning difference to van Garderen.

The BMC captain admitted in an interview with VeloNews last year he was a touch behind the top three riders of the peloton — Froome, Nibali, and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) — but his performances this season suggest that gap is narrowing.

After winning a stage in a hard-fought Volta a Catalunya in March, van Garderen came to the Dauphiné to win. And he almost did, only to be out-gunned by a superior Froome in Sunday’s final climb when the Sky captain surged clear with about 3 kilometers to go. Van Garderen admits the second place stung a little bit, but he was also encouraged by his consistency in the mountains all week.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be easy, to be honest. It was quite hard. Froome played it tactically pretty well. He knows that I’m better keeping the rhythm, so he attacked me at the perfect moment,” van Garderen said Sunday. “For a little bit that gap was just agonizing that close. I was trying to hold on, but when you give Froome five meters, it’s hard to pull back.”

Van Garderen was third at the Dauphiné in 2010, when he was just starting to find his way in the peloton. Five years later, he is the outright GC captain for BMC Racing, and anything less than victory can be disappointing for the top pros. But to come close to knocking back Froome, coupled with finishing ahead of such rivals as Nibali and Valverde, provides van Garderen with an extra boost of confidence going into the Tour de France.

“Every race you go to you want to shoot for the top,” he said in a BMC release. “I am certainly happy with second place and I am really happy with how I am stacking up to all of my Tour rivals. I think it is a good sign for July. Right now it is hurting a little bit, but sometimes that is a good thing.”

BMC sport director Yvon Ledanois also had plenty to be satisfied with, especially how van Garderen’s teammates rallied to support their captain after he slipped back Friday, but surged back into the lead Saturday, and fought to the end Sunday against Froome.

“When you have the jersey the last day, you hope you can deliver the victory,” Ledanois said. “If you had asked us before the race about finishing second overall and winning a stage and having the jersey, we would have been pleased with those results. The good thing is that we know Tejay gave 200 percent. The stronger rider [Sunday] was Froome.”

Van Garderen will recover from the Dauphiné, then put the final touches on his Tour de France preparation.

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