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California Roundtable: Can Tejay hold on?

Tejay van Garderen looked to be down and out at this year’s Amgen Tour of California following the race’s stage 2 summit finish to Gibraltar Road. Van Garderen lost 50 seconds after he was dropped by Sky’s Egan Bernal on the hulking climb. On Wednesday van Garderen roared back, winning the individual time trial in Morgan Hill and seizing the race overall. He now leads Bernal by 23 seconds heading into Friday’s climbing stage to South Lake Tahoe.

Does van Garderen have enough of a cushion to hold off Bernal? What would it mean for van Garderen and his BMC team to win? Let’s roundtable!

What did the time trial tell us about the GC favorites?

Dane Cash @danecash: It told us that Tejay van Garderen is in better shape than he seemed at the start. The stage 6 climb to Lake Tahoe suits him well, and if he can carry that form to the top, he has a fine chance of his defending his title. The time trial also told us, however, that Sky is very strong at this race. Egan Bernal delivered a respectable ride, while Tao Geoghegan Hart proved just how good he is. BMC can’t underestimate Sky’s one-two punch.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: We learned a few things. Rafal Majka still cannot time trial with any aptitude in the United States. Brandon McNulty can suffer a calamity (flat tire) and still roar back for an impressive ride. Egan Bernal may own Colombia’s individual time trial title, however, he’s still somewhat shaky on pan-flat courses that cater to power riders. And Tejay van Garderen can rebound from disappointment and still muster the motivation to hurt himself in the race against the clock. Chapeau to van Garderen. The easy out would have been to look at his minute deficit to Bernal and roll over. Instead, he cranked it.

Which rider surprised you in the TT?

Dane: It’s a tie. Daniel Martinez proved he’s more than just a climbing talent with a strong ride for 10th place on the day, while Neilson Powless bounced back from a tough day on Gibraltar Road with the eighth best time of the afternoon.

Fred: I thought Taylor Phinney was going to win, or at least land on the podium. I also did not pick Tao Geoghegan Hart to nearly win the thing. This year’s Tour of California has been as much a coming out party for Geoghegan Hart as it has been for Bernal. We’ve known about his abilities on the bike due to his success with Axel Merck’s development team. It’s one thing to be a badass U23; it’s another to be perhaps the strongest guy in a WorldTour stage race. I would not be surprised to see Geoghegan Hart riding in Sky’s grand tour hit squad sometime soon. Or, perhaps he could be the young British leader that Sky will look to after the Froome era ends.

Van Garderen has 23 seconds on Bernal. Is that enough to win?

Dane: It’s going to be very close. I don’t expect van Garderen to blow up on the Tahoe climb. I do, however, think Bernal ekes it out. With Geoghegan Hart as a wildcard, Sky should make things interesting on Saturday.

Fred: The final climb up Kingsbury Grade looks extremely difficult and long, however, it’s not particularly steep. In fact, it’s the type of long and crushing climb that van Garderen cut his teeth on in Colorado. Plus, the climb is at high altitude, which also suits van Garderen’s natural proclivities. I’ve watched van Garderen win two versions of the now defunct USA Pro Challenge. He never battled a rider with Bernal’s talents, by my estimation, however, he has the legs to win on a long, cracking climb. I think it will be close, but I think van Garderen holds on.

What’s your pick for the final podium?

Dane: Bernal on the top step flanked by van Garderen and Martínez.

Fred: Van Garderen, Bernal, Martinez.

 

 

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