PARIS, France (VN) — Greg LeMond. Andy Hampsten. Tejay van Garderen.
Van Garderen was sent to France to shepherd Cadel Evans to another Tour victory, but that’s not the way things shook out.
When the dust cleared, van Garderen found himself at fifth on the general classification and resplendent in the white jersey as the Tour’s best young rider. Evans finished seventh.
The 23-year-0ld is now in sterling company: LeMond (1984) and Hampsten (1986) are the only other Americans to win the maillot blanc.
“If you would have told me that I was going to be fifth place before the start of this Tour, I’d have said you were crazy. I didn’t think that was possible. But, now I know that anything’s possible,” said a jubilant van Garderen at the BMC Racing bus just after the Tour’s final stage.
“It was just — I don’t know — it was a mix of a bunch of things. I just kept getting better throughout the three weeks.”
Indeed, he did. Van Garderen’s result came from consistency in his second Tour, his first with BMC. He time-trialed exceptionally well and kept things close enough in the Alps and the Pyrénées, losing less time than team leader Evans.
“As soon as [Evans] started to falter, I was given the green light and just stayed consistent. What else can I say, really? It was just an amazing thing. And I’m thrilled,” he said, a wide grin on his face.
Van Garderen finished 11:04 behind Bradley Wiggins (Sky). His time-trial performances were perhaps the most notable piece of riding for the young American at the 2012 Tour; in the first time trial, he finished fourth, and in the second, he took seventh.
He spent all but two days of this Tour in white. It’s not straight from white to yellow, though. BMC Racing still houses Evans, and Jim Ochowicz, the team’s manager, has said the team will evaluate its cards once the Tour is wrapped up.
But for van Garderen, it’s certainly a flash of the brilliance he’s capable of.
“I think it’s another few years before I can think about switching this color (to yellow),” van Garderen said. “Luckily I’m still eligible for this color next year so maybe I’ll try to win this again before I think of the big prize. Being able to learn from veterans like George [Hincapie] and Cadel and that I can actually hold up to a three-week race has been wild.”
Van Garderen will race the Olympic road race and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado followed by the world championships in the Netherlands in September.
He told VeloNews he will focus on the details that could bump him up on GC next year in Paris.
“Just focus on those little 1 percent improvements that are harder to come by than it sounds. But things like maybe altitude training and course reconnaissance and maybe planning the race program around the Tour more. We’ll see.”