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Van Garderen looking to get back on track in California after injury-marred spring

LONG BEACH, California (VN) — BMC’s Tejay van Garderen will start the Amgen Tour of California as one of the overall favorites, but the 29-year-old American says that it took a change of plans to get the race onto his 2018 program. The event was not on his schedule to start the year.

It was, however, on Brent Bookwalter’s. With that in mind, BMC heads into the 13th Tour of California with a pair of GC options.

“It’s a two-pronged approach. Brent’s very motivated for this race, as am I,” van Garderen said at Friday’s pre-race press conference.

“This race wasn’t actually on my program from the beginning of the year and Brent’s been focused here from the beginning. That being said, we’re both super motivated, we’re both very capable of podium results — even top step podium results.”

After getting off to a strong start in 2018, van Garderen had a tough spring campaign. He finished third in impressive company in his first racing appearance of the season at the Volta ao Algarve, but then crashed twice in Paris-Nice and again before the Volta a Catalunya.

Van Garderen is expected to return to the Tour de France this summer after racing the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España last year. Although he’ll likely be playing a secondary role behind GC leader Richie Porte, a smooth buildup remains critical to strong performances this summer. As it turns out, the Tour of California is van Garderen’s best option to get back on track after his frustrating spring.

“I had to skip País Vasco because I was racing through injuries and had to give myself time to recover,” he said. “I was looking at the programs thinking, ‘Okay, how can I make up some race days.’ They said, ‘What if you go back to California?’ At first, I was like, ‘Pump the brakes.’ It’s a lot of travel and stuff. But then when I started thinking about it, it was an idea that got me really motivated.”

Van Garderen’s change of plans leaves BMC with two capable options for California. Bookwalter has been on the GC podium and rode to fourth overall last year. With the race again set to favor balanced riders who can both climb and time trial, Bookwalter certainly has a chance to improve on his past performances in California.

Van Garderen said Friday that the team will head into the week looking to support both riders, a strategy he sees as an advantage. That’s good news for BMC, considering the strength of the GC field in California this year. With Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Egan Bernal (Sky), and Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) headlining the roster of general classification contenders this week, teams eyeing the yellow jersey will have their work cut out for them.

“It’s only going to help us having two cards to play, and a lot is going to be decided out on the road,” van Garderen said. “I know that sounds like a cliché answer but there’s going to be a time when the race is happening, and one of us is going to have better legs than the other. I will gladly sacrifice for Brent, and Brent has shown in the past that he can sacrifice for me. I think it only makes us stronger to have two of us out there.”

Fans likely won’t have long to wait to get a better idea of which member of BMC’s two-pronged approach is sharper for the Tour of California. The race takes on the grueling Gibraltar Road climb on Monday’s second stage. With an average gradient of eight percent, it’s a test that will quickly sort out who’s in form and who’s not for North America’s biggest stage race.

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