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Why is Tejay van Garderen racing the Giro?

DENIA, Spain (VN) — Tejay van Garderen sat down for a meeting with BMC Racing brass, and he wasn’t surprised with what they told him.

They were blunt, yet sympathetic, and it went something like this: Richie Porte is going to be our sole GC team leader for the Tour de France. You can ride as a helper, or go as an option B, or you can go to the Giro d’Italia. It’s up to you.

It wasn’t a sign of disrespect to van Garderen, but rather an admission of the obvious. Based on how the past two Tours have gone for the American, and how strong the Australian rode the 2016 Tour, Porte looked like a better bet. Van Garderen calmly considered his options, and after seeing the respective routes of the Giro and Tour, the decision was easy.

“The team left it up to me,” van Garderen said Monday at a team camp media day. “It was obvious that I wasn’t going to the Tour as the leader. I took my time, and I gave it some thought. When the courses came out, I said, ‘OK, let’s do the Giro.’”

For a rider who finished third in his rookie season at the Critérium du Dauphiné and won the best young rider’s jersey and finished fifth overall in his second Tour — following that up with fifth again in 2014, the best Tour results by an American in a generation — that might seem like a step backward.

At 28, van Garderen doesn’t see it that way. Instead, he’s embracing a fresh challenge, accepting the new reality at BMC Racing for 2017, and keeping an eye on the future. He’s not giving up on the Tour just yet.

Here’s how van Garderen explained why the Giro feels right, right now:

‘I’ve never done the Giro before’

Despite living in Italy early in his career, and racing the Tour and Vuelta on numerous occasions, he’d never raced the Giro. In fact, he’s rarely raced in Italy. So when the chance came up, he took the pragmatic view. Why not?

“It’s something I’ve never done before. It’s a new experience, something to keep me motivated, to keep it fresh and new. I am going to be riding for the GC at the Giro, I am not going just to put a number on. A lot of the climbs are pretty unfamiliar to me. I’ve hardly raced in Italy at all, so a lot of it will be really new. But looking at the course, the last week will sort it all out, with four mountaintop finishes and a time trial. I think it suits my style. To be honest, the Giro is something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. It’s never worked out. A few years ago, in 2015, there was a Giro that suited me perfectly. I had same mentality that [Ag2r – La Mondiale’s Romain] Bardet does after his big Tour, why not step back and do the Giro? And relieve some of the pressure of the Tour, and do the Giro? I can see same the situation now as Bardet; his team is saying the Tour is too important.”

‘The team was very fair’

How you say things is just as important as what you say. Team BMC management was open and honest with van Garderen, yet at the same time reassuring and encouraging. van Garderen took it all to heart, and decided the best thing he could do was turn it into a positive:

“It was expressed to me for the Tour that Richie was going to be the guy. I understand that, and I am OK with that. It didn’t come as a shock to me. That being said, it was said in a way that it wasn’t presented to me in a negative way, not in a way that, ‘You’ve lost our position and here’s what you’re left with.’ They gave me a lot of freedom, and a lot of time to decide. The team was very fair about how they went about it.”

‘Porte deserves his chance’

Van Garderen is also the first to admit that the past few Tours haven’t gone his way. After abandoning in 2015, he rode strong through the first two weeks of the Tour this year, but struggled in the third week. Porte, in contrast, overcame an early setback, and clawed his way to fifth overall. As close friends with Porte, there is no jealousy from van Garderen’s part:
“It was pretty clear that Richie deserves his chance. Not that I am jealous or feel entitled to anything. At the end of the day, Richie had an amazing season, and he’s proved he deserves it. I am happy for him. We are good friends. Next year’s Tour course should suit Richie quite well, so I hope the team has huge success in both races.”

‘I’m still only 28’

Van Garderen also knows that time is still on his side. He came blazing into the pro ranks after being America’s most successful junior racer ever, and scored some impressive early results. He’s confident he has more in the tank:

“Right now, it’s more of a relief to me. Let Richie have the pressure, and I go to another race, and just enjoy myself. I’m still only 28, and I still have a number of years to go back to Tour, to better my two fifth places, and shoot for the podium. I am actually relieved and really excited.”

‘Going back to the basics’

Van Garderen also expressed frustration with his admitted obsession with training and the perhaps subconscious desire to try new training methods with the hope that it would give him an extra advantage. His struggles over the past few seasons have helped him reflect and take stock on his training and preparation. For 2017, he said he’s going back to what he knows works for him:

“I am going to back to what I used to do. It was all this new stuff and new information coming out, so if you’re motivated and ambitious, you’re going to try it. Now I have experience to know what works for me and what doesn’t. I am switching back to Max Testa as my trainer. No more of this low-carbo BS anymore. It was all about marginal gains, looking for these quarter of a percent gains. But if the difference isn’t even measurable, why try it? Back to the basics is my phrase, and keeping it simple.”

‘Winning the Tour is still the goal’

Going to the Giro this year doesn’t mean he’s given up on trying to win the Tour. In fact, he’s hoping his great Giro adventure will help him in his quest for yellow:

“It’s still the goal [to win the Tour]. I don’t know if I can do it with this body and mind, but I am certainly still going to try. I am hoping going to Giro and that approach can help me learn a bit more. If I knew the answer, maybe I would already won the Tour.”

‘I hope to stay at BMC’

Van Garderen also said time is on his side, and said he hopes to keep racing at BMC, his professional home since 2012:

“Richie is three years older than. There was another elder Australian on this team that won the Tour before, and kind of got pushed aside [laughs]. I don’t know what will happen in the future. This is my home since 2012. I don’t plan or aspire to go anywhere else. I think we can make it work out.”

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