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13 seconds to paradise: Van Garderen on cusp of yellow jersey

Tejay van Garderen could nab the yellow jersey in Sunday's TTT as the Tour leaves a hard first week in the rear-view mirror

VANNES, France (VN) — Thirteen seconds: that’s all that separates Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) from the yellow jersey.

The 26-year-old has ridden through a near-flawless opening week of the 2015 Tour de France, and he will start Sunday’s 28km team time trial with a very good shot at overtaking Chris Froome (Sky) and second-place Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) to claim cycling’s most prized garment.

“Anything’s possible. That would be something if we could take it,” van Garderen told VeloNews at the BMC team bus, a smile creasing across his face. “Right now, we’re focusing on getting the stage win, and if the yellow jersey comes with that, awesome. If not, well, we just want the victory.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher for van Garderen as the Tour pedals out of a brutal first week. Sunday’s team test against the clock could see some significant differences among the top teams, and it’s very realistic that BMC could snatch back the 13 seconds separating Froome and third-place van Garderen. Sagan hovers in second at 11 seconds back.

At June’s Critérium du Dauphiné, BMC beat back a similar Sky team by 35 seconds on a rolling 24.5km course, though the profile of that TTT was not as punchy as Sunday’s course will be. And, of course, the Tour is a different animal altogether, and nine days into the race, the legs will be feeling the pain.

Earlier this week, Froome admitted that he has van Garderen firmly on his radar.

“It’s a surprise to hear that from Froome, it’s a big honor,” van Garderen said. “We did everything right [in the first week]. We spend a lot of energy to be at the front, to avoid crashes, and any splits. It costs a bit of energy, but it’s worth it.”

Without looking past the other rivals, van Garderen couldn’t hide his confidence going into Sunday’s battle. BMC Racing is the reigning world champion in the team time trial, and four members of the 2014 title-winning team will be lining up for the stage 9 showdown.

“If I had to pick the favorite, I would say BMC,” he continued. “The four world champions we have in the discipline, and Rohan Dennis, he’s definitely the key factor for the team. We’re looking forward to it.”

Dennis, who won the opening time trial in Utrecht to claim the yellow jersey in stage 1, will be an important motor for the team time trial effort, where the time is taken at the fifth man across the line. Also back from last year’s world title ride are Oss, van Garderen, and Quinziato. Michael Schär and Samuel Sánchez are no slouches against the clock, either.

BMC also starts with a full, nine-man team, which is not the case for rivals Etixx-Quick-Step, missing Tony Martin; Orica-GreenEdge, short three riders, and Trek Factory Racing, missing Fabian Cancellara. The teams of the “Fab Four” — Movistar, Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo, and Astana — all start with nine riders.

BMC is in with a chance, a very big chance, to win the stage, and put van Garderen into the maillot jaune.

“There is always a chance. I don’t want to jinx myself, and think about it too much,” van Garderen told NBC on the finish line Saturday. “We’re just going to go out there, we’ve got four world champions, and we’ll put out the best performance we can.”

Without a doubt, the opening week of the 2015 Tour couldn’t have gone better for van Garderen. Twice fifth overall, some wondered if he could make that next step in his career. So far through this Tour, he’s proving that he has. Van Garderen shook hands and thanked his teammates as he spun briefly on the rollers after the stage. He sighed in relief as he stepped inside the BMC bus at the end of stage 8. The worst was behind him. The Pyrénées and the Alps now loom. Now he knows it’s all up to him. He sounded ready for the challenge.

“It couldn’t have gone much better. The boys have been incredible. They’ve done all the work for me, all I’ve had to do is follow the wheel. They’ve made my life a lot less stressful,” van Garderen said of the first week. “So now we just gotta smash the TTT tomorrow, rest up, and look forward to the part where I gotta do it on my own.”

That starts Tuesday. It remains to be seen who will take the yellow jersey into the Pyrénées. Van Garderen is hoping he will be the one to do it.