GREENVILLE, South Carolina (VN) — It’s been a fantastic year for Tejay van Garderen.
The 24-year-old BMC Racing rider finished fifth overall at the 2012 Tour de France and won the best young rider’s jersey, a prize he can compete for again next year. At home he finished fourth at the Amgen Tour of California and won stage 2 of Colorado’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge en route to finishing second overall.
It was a season to be proud of — and one that van Garderen is hoping to build upon going into 2013, a year that holds opportunities at home and abroad.
VeloNews sat down with van Garderen in Greenville after he rode the George Hincapie Gran Fondo. He was headed home to Colorado after the 2013 Tour presentation in Paris and stopped in Hincapie’s hometown to support his former teammate.
When van Garderen is introduced, the phrase “the future of American racing” is often used, and for good reason. However, that club also includes several other young riders.
“The future of American cycling looks strong and it has been looking strong for a long time,” said van Garderen. “We got a crop of young Americans coming up: me, (Andrew) Talansky, (Taylor) Phinney, (Joe) Dombrowski and Larry Warbasse, who we just signed for BMC,” said van Garderen.
“Hopefully we’re giving the fans another 10 years of excitement of watching the Tour now that some of the older-generation guys are on their way out.”
The veterans are not all gone yet — BMC has already announced that 35-year-old Cadel Evans, the 2011 Tour champion, will be the team’s sole leader next year. However, after this strong season van Garderen will have his chances, too.
“Cadel and I are on separate programs for most of the year so I will have plenty of chances to step into a leadership role in a number of races: Paris-Nice, Pays Basque, Amgen Tour of California, Colorado. Those will all be races I’ll aim for,” he said.
Defending his white jersey in next year’s Tour is important, but also high on the list for van Garderen is winning America’s marquee events, particularly the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, where he finished third in 2011 and second this year.
“The biggest disappointment was Colorado,” he said. “I came really close to winning and I just missed it. I look back and think I could have done this different, or that different, and maybe the result would have been different.
“I want to win in Colorado. That’s the big one for me to win.”
Van Garderen also liked what he saw during the 2013 Tour presentation.
“It’s a good one. It’s a pretty balanced course,” he said. “Everyone was saying it was going to be a climber’s Tour with crazy climbs and short time trials – the opposite of this year – but when I looked at it, it seems pretty balanced. There’s two decent time trials, a team time trial and four summit finishes. It’s a good balanced route.”
The early stages on the island of Corsica, with its windy, narrow roads, will lend themselves to nervous riding. As recent Tour history has shown, the first week has seen huge crashes that can ruin an overall contender’s chances. If the unthinkable happens to Evans, BMC has another option.
“The tentative plan for the Tour is to go with Cadel, but you never know what could happen. It’s good to have an option B,” said van Garderen.
Van Garderen also has his eye on a couple of stages that could shape the chase for the yellow jersey.
“The hilly time trial [in stage 17] is going to be good. The one stage that there will be fireworks is when we go up the Alpe d’Huez twice in the same stage . That is not going to be easy.”
Neither is answering questions about the Armstrong Affair, which saw his now-retired teammate Hincapie admit to using performance-enhancing drugs while riding alongside Lance Armstrong.
Asked how the matter was affecting him, van Garderen replied: “Nothing changes for me. I still ride and still train and I still have target races that I’m doing. The only thing that changes is we get asked these questions a lot.
“I understand that people are going to ask the question and want to know people’s opinions, but the fact is that it is stuff that happened a long time ago. Since I’ve been in this sport there’s been no doubt in my mind that it is has been clean since 2010 and probably a few years before that. There’s no big scandal happening now, it’s a big scandal of the past. I don’t care about the past.”
If a competitor were to cheat him today, van Garderen continued, “I’d be livid. But I wasn’t cheated back then. The guys you should really talk to are the guys who were cheated on back then – they might have a better opinion.
“But for me, and maybe it’s a selfish opinion, as long as I’m racing a clean Tour and I have a chance for a victory or to compete, I’ll be happy.”