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Van Garderen relishes Italy’s charms as Giro debut draws closer

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Tejay van Garderen has not spent much time in Italy, but he’s always thought about racing the country’s biggest stage race, the Giro d’Italia. In May, for the first time in his seven-year professional career, he will lead BMC Racing in the Italian grand tour.

With the Giro in mind, van Garderen is racing on Italian roads next week in the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race. He needs that local flavor before the Giro starts on May 5.

“I’ve never raced the Giro, it’s definitely a box I want to tick before I’m done,” van Garderen said.

Van Garderen grew up cycling in the 1990s. He remembered watching Gilberto Simoni climb Monte Zoncolan and Alpe Pampeago to win the 2003 Giro d’Italia.

“It was Marco Pantani’s last time to race the Giro,” he said. “The race has always appealed to me. It always seems to have much drama, there are big crowds and passion.”

In 2017, the Giro appealed to the 28-year-old from Colorado even more, given that BMC’s other grand tour star Richie Porte is improving and deserving of sole leadership role in the Tour de France.

Van Garderen said this winter it was obvious he would not race the 2017 Tour de France as the leader and that when the organizer announced the Giro d’Italia route, he decided on it.

The Giro starts in Sardinia with three stages before visiting Italy’s other big island, Sicily, where it will feature its first summit finish to Mount Etna.

Van Garderen will preview the Etna stage when he trains at altitude there later this year. He will also take a moment around Tirreno-Adriatico to see the 39.2-kilometer time trial in Umbria. Testing the climbs in the Alps to the north may have to wait, depending on the weather.

“The route is certainly a good route,” he explained. “It’s hard, many climbs, and the good amount of TT kilometers is certainly appealing.”

Organizer RCS Sport assembled an all-star list for the 100th edition. Home favorites Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Fabio Aru (Astana) will race, as will Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Dutchmen Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Orica-Scott’s twins Simon and Adam Yates, and team Sky’s Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa.

“You’re only going to be missing a couple of names in the Giro, it seems that everyone is putting their hand up for the Giro. It’s probably something to do with it being the 100th edition,” van Garderen added.

“It’s going to be very special and it’s great there’s going to be such a competitive field. When we go there and kick some ass, no one can say that it’s only because so and so didn’t show up.”

BMC will take Ben Hermans, the winner of the Tour of Oman last month, and rising Australian star Rohan Dennis. Porte will be the clear leader in France, but in Italy, the team will have to decide whom it will protect.

“I think Rohan is going to want to do a GC, or at least try for a GC at the Giro,” van Garderen said. “I’ve never raced the Giro so I can’t say, but I don’t think it’s the same as the Tour. You don’t need to do a full nine-man leadout from start to finish with the whole team. I think maybe you have freedom to float around a little bit more.”

Van Garderen brushed off ideas that he was stepping down by not racing the Tour de France, where he twice finished fifth overall.

“I’m not trying to avoid stress or pressure,” he said. “Part of the reason I wanted to ride the Giro is it’s pretty clear that, after last year, Richie is going to be the leader for Tour.

“If I wanted to be a leader for a grand tour it was either going to be the Giro or the Vuelta, so I chose the Giro. I’m not trying to dodge other racers or deflect stress. That’s not the case at all.”