Q&A with USA Pro Challenge race leader Tejay van Garderen
After winning stage 3 of the USA Pro Challenge Wednesday at Monarch Mountain and taking the overall race lead ahead of Tinkoff-Saxo rider Rafal Majka, BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen met with the press to answer questions about the stage, his biggest rivals, and what’s next at the seven-day stage race.
Q: Have you ever finished a race at this altitude? And how did your preparation at altitude, in Aspen, help you manage to day’s summit finish?
TVG: No, not unless the USA Pro Challenge has finished higher than this, otherwise this is the highest I’ve ever finished. Monarch [elevation 11,312 feet] is much higher than the [Passo dello] Stelvio, the highest road we climb in Europe, so this altitude was unlike anything that’s ever been raced. I was in Aspen for two weeks before the race. I used those days to scout out [Tuesday’s] stage [with McClure Pass and Kebler Pass], then I stayed in Salida to scout out today’s finishing climb. Spending the last two weeks at altitude makes huge difference.
Q: Which riders were you most concerned with in the final five kilometers?
TVG: [Tom] Danielson [Garmin-Sharp] was the biggest concern, then Majka. We were in a good position, and we also had Ben Hermans, so we could play with that a little bit. Danielson was the biggest concern with us. Now I’m thinking we’re going to need to watch Majka the most.
Q: Was today a bit of retribution for all the havoc Majka created in the mountains at the Tour de France?
TVG: I was never in any direct battles with Majka at the Tour. He’s a good guy; he’s always joking, he always has a big smile on his face. He was the first to congratulate me at the finish. He’s part of this younger generation of cyclists. I have a huge amount of respect for him, but I am definitely ready to battle with him this week.
Q: Did Garmin’s repeated attacks cause you concern, or were you relaxed about them?
TVG: I felt pretty well under control. The team rode incredibly. It was a little confusing out there because Garmin had the jersey, but they didn’t want to control. They kept jumping and riding aggressively; it was a confusing tactic. So, just to simplify things, we put on our team on front, to keep things from getting out of hand. After riding all day yesterday, and a portion today, I think it’s awesome I was able to pay them back with a stage win and the yellow jersey.
Q: What can you say about Tom Danielson’s tactics and strategy? How did you play your own strategy off of what he was doing?
TVG: The thing is, Danielson, all due respect to him, but I think he got a little nervous. He wanted to attack on his own, but he never seemed like he wanted to commit to an attack. It seemed like every time he saw me on his wheel, he sat up. He also didn’t want anyone else to go up the road, so not only was he doing his own attacks, he was jumping with all the other attacks. I could just sense that he was nervous, so I thought, okay, I’ll just sit behind him, he’ll wear himself out a bit with all his jumping, and then all I need is just one solid move, and that’s all it took.
Q: Did you ever feel like you were in difficulty? Do you feel like a climb like this — long, and high, but not terribly steep — perfectly suits your strengths?
TVG: It wasn’t the steepest climb out there, but I’m no stranger on doing well in steep climbs. This year at the Tour we had Col de Pla d’Adet, and Hautacam. Those are much steeper than anything you find in Colorado, Utah, or California. I wouldn’t have minded if it was a bit steeper. That makes it harder for weaker guys to follow when there’s attacks, so you’re only dealing with five guys instead of 15.
Q: It seemed like the past couple days it’s taken almost two hours for the breakaway to go. Is there a reason for that?
TVG: Yeah, it has to do with the fact that the yellow jersey didn’t want to defend. Yesterday UnitedHealthcare had a tactic to neutralize the breakaway through the first two sprint bonuses to secure Kiel Reijnen in the green jersey; then they said they weren’t racing for GC, and would let the GC teams control. So then it was up to us, as defending champions, to do so. Today we thought Garmin was going to control for the jersey, but every attack they tried to put someone in the move. And that didn’t bode well for us, because then we would have to chase. If you have a strong team interested in defending the jersey, it’s easier to get a break to go.
Q: Thursday’s stage, a circuit race in Colorado Springs, looks to be one of the easier stages on paper. Do you have any perspective on that?
TVG: When I look at the Garden of Gods circuit, I see a 17-percent grade, four times; that’s not that easy. I think we have the strongest team here. Ben Hermans is still in third place overall, and he hasn’t even touched the wind yet. If we need to, we can pull him out and have him defend, because he’s got a big engine that we’ve kept fresh this whole time. But I don’t think we’ll even need to because I think the rest of the team is up to the challenge.
Q: What was it like in the wind today? Was it strong enough to keep people from attacking, or was it just not steep enough? Was there a headwind?
TVG: There was a headwind. It definitely makes it easier to follow. But then again, if you can jump and get the gap, it also makes it harder to close the gap. So if you are really explosive and can get that gap, you can keep it. If you are just going to grind out a tempo, then that’s easier to do in a tailwind.
Q: If you’re Garmin, if you’re Danielson, what’s your next move?
TVG: They were obviously really aggressive today. Even on day one, they were aggressive with Howes almost getting the stage win. I think they’re probably just going to keep being aggressive. The best part is Garmin’s playbook is pretty easy to read. Back in 2012, they had four GC guys with [Peter] Stetina, [Alex] Howes, [Tom] Danielson and Christian [Vande Velde], and they would use all of them and it was hard to keep them under control. Now it’s looking more like Danielson is there only guy; Howes is 2 minutes down. I think Tom will probably be aggressive; it’s not that much of a concern because we only need to watch one guy.
Q: Did today’s win have anything to do with revenge after yesterday’s neutralization, and a potential missed stage-win opportunity?
TVG: We wanted the stage win yesterday. But I’m not disappointed at all, it was an amazing ride by [Robin] Carpenter. It was unfortunate what happened, but at end of day, I can’t be too disappointed. In the end, I was beaten to the line by Alex Howes. You never know if you’re if going for the stage win, when you get that extra motivation, but Howes would have had that extra motivation as well. I wasn’t out for revenge or anything today; we were just out there to do our best.
Q: Was it course recon, the race situation, or the gradient, that helped you decide to make the final move?
TVG: It was the feel of the race. I was assessing the attacks from Danielson, looking at his body language. At beginning of the climb, his attacks were really strong, but towards the top, they were starting to get a little bit weaker. Before, he would attack and make a really hard tempo and we’d all be suffering on his wheel. Then he’d look around, and they just got a little weaker so I knew he’s tired; got to hit him when he’s tired.