FORLI, Italy (VN) — Tejay van Garderen is at a career crossroads.
Following three punishing stages that saw him plummet out of contention at the Giro d’Italia, the BMC Racing rider is left wondering what his future holds.
Van Garderen came into his Giro debut with high hopes of getting his career back on track. BMC was supporting him without piling on the pressure that comes with the Tour de France and everyone was cautiously optimistic that a podium finish could be in the cards. Three disappointing stages in a row with major time losses — he started Thursday’s 12th stage in 35th at 27:25 back — saw van Garderen fade out of the GC frame.
After fifth-place finishes at the 2012 and 2014 Tours de France, van Garderen was once touted as America’s next grand tour champion. At 28, after abandoning three of his past four grand tours, he admits he’s struggling to find his footing in the peloton.
In a heartfelt interview, van Garderen sat on the steps of the BMC Racing bus before the stage 12 start to speak to VeloNews. Here’s what he said about this Giro and his future:
VN: Things haven’t gone as you expected. How do you assess your situation now?
Tejay van Garderen: I definitely had high hopes coming into this event, and this is not how I envisioned my Giro going. I don’t really know what else to say.
VN: Are you suffering from an illness or any physical problem?
TVG: I don’t really want to make excuses. Every time I try to make an explanation, everyone says, oh, he’s just making more excuses. It’s a lose-lose situation; if I try to give an explanation, then it’s an excuse, and if I don’t, then people don’t accept that, either. Right now, my body is just kind of failing. I don’t know why — I did feel a little bit of a heat stroke on the day before Blockhaus, but I was able to dump some water over my head. I ate and drank, and I felt like I dodged a bullet. Since then, I feel like I can’t really get into the red. That’s the only explanation I can come up with. I don’t know …
VN: You seemed like you were on track in your approach to the Giro.
TVG: I feel like I put in a perfect month of training. I feel like I did everything right. I wasn’t doing anything stupid or experimental — I was keeping everything simple. And Romandie was good. I felt like I showed the legs were good there. I was up there on the summit finish and the time trial, I had that small crash in the prologue, but even with the crash, I wasn’t that far behind … [pauses] … It’s really confusing, frustrating. I know what people are probably saying about me — I don’t even look at cycling websites anymore, and I deleted my social media accounts — I know what people are saying. Every time I want to prove them wrong … I don’t know why it’s not working.
VN: It must be frustrating because you’ve shown in the past you could be at the top level.
TVG: Sometimes I tell myself, maybe I am not a grand tour rider. That doesn’t mean I am not a good rider. But other times I look at who’s up there, and wait a minute, I’ve beaten these guys before — I’ve beaten them just last week. I should be up there. Maybe I am not up there at the level of [Nairo] Quintana or [Chris] Froome, but I could be up there. For some reason, sometimes my legs … I don’t know.
VN: We know Max Sciandri spoke with you; what is he telling you to get through this Giro?
TVG: He’s trying to keep the morale up. Keep the team morale high. Reassess, try to use these couple of days to recover and get my body feeling like itself again, and then take any opportunity I can. Right now, I need to get my career back on track. In order to do that, you need to seize any opportunity that comes your way.
VN: You lost more time on Wednesday. What was happening there?
TVG: It was a hard, hard day. I was suffering to stay on the wheel. At the time, it only takes a split second, maybe we should just, instead of digging the hole deeper, let’s save it for a breakaway. And you can justify it in your mind at the time. Looking back, I don’t know if it would have been better to fight and stay there, or a good idea and save the legs and go for a breakaway. Hopefully I can get in one and have a good showing. And make that decision worthwhile.
VN: What’s next after this Giro?
TVG: I just want to get my career back on track. I don’t know what I’ll do after the Giro. But any race I go to, see it as an opportunity to do that.