Giro d'Italia
Tejay van Garderen rolled up to the stage at the...

Tejay Van Garderen ‘as good or better than he’s ever been’

Tejay van Garderen gets through Giro stage 1 unscathed. His team says he's in top form for his debut at the Italian grand tour.

OLBIA, Italy (VN) — Tejay van Garderen sat on the step of the BMC Racing team bus as a spring sun sunk in the Mediterranean Sea. Covered in grit and still pumping from the race-day adrenaline, he was no longer a Giro d’Italia newbie.

Mission accomplished. Van Garderen pushed through Friday’s hectic opening stage, avoiding a late-stage crash that swiped out his BMC teammate Laurent Didier, and crossed the line safely with the GC favorites in 39th. Well into his eighth pro season, in many ways, it was just another day in the saddle, but the first day of the 100th edition of the Italian grand tour was packed with significance.

“You get the feeling for the Giro,” van Garderen told VeloNews. “The crowds and the people and the atmosphere, it keeps you really positive.”

That will be the drumbeat inside BMC Racing for the coming three weeks: Stay positive, stay safe, and stay in the GC hunt.

Van Garderen’s Giro debut couldn’t be more loaded with anticipation. With BMC Racing fully backing Richie Porte for the Tour de France, the 2017 Giro is van Garderen’s chance to reassert his grand tour credentials.

“That’s his challenge right now, to show the doubters out there — I am not one of them, but I know there are some — that he can get this job done,” said BMC Racing manager Jim Ochowicz. “I think he’s as good or better than he’s ever been.”

Ochowicz said it’s wrong to cast van Garderen’s designation as the team’s Giro leader as a demotion.

“Not at all. The Giro has a lot of prestige, we have planned on this all year,” Ochowicz said. “His head’s in the game, the body is ready, and the team is ready. We will look at how it shakes out in three weeks’ time.”

BMC doesn’t line up as the top favorite — the weight of the race will fall on Movistar and Bahrain-Merida — so the team is looking to follow the wheels, avoid mishaps, and guide van Garderen into the second half of the Giro as close as possible to the sharp end of the leaderboard.

This Giro could serve as the 28-year-old’s grand tour revival. After twice finishing fifth in the Tour de France, van Garderen diplomatically accepted BMC’s Tour bet on Porte, and fully embraced the challenge of the Giro as a chance to remind everyone of what he’s capable of during three weeks of intense racing.

“I am feeling very good. It’s been a gradual progression, and I hit my form at the right time. I am happy with the work I’ve put in,” van Garderen said at the start. “I grew up during the Lance [Armstrong] years, and the Tour seemed very methodical and scripted, and the Giro is anything but. Every day you’re going to have to be on your toes, and expect the unexpected.”

The marching orders inside the BMC bus are: Get off these islands with GC options fully intact. Three days of racing across Sardinia, and two more on Sicily are on tap before a transfer to Italy’s boot. The team will focus on ushering van Garderen and BMC’s GC lieutenant Rohan Dennis safely around the booby traps. On Friday, Joey Rosskopf and Manuel Quinziato were designated to guide van Garderen through the stage. One down, four to go.

If van Garderen survives the first half of the Giro in strong GC position — key stages include summit finales at Mount Etna and Blockhaus and a long time trial on stage 10 — the final half of the Giro is ideal for his diesel engine in the high mountains.

“We think he’s ready for the Giro,” Ochowicz said. “This is a special race. Heck, I’d love to be the guy who wins the 100th edition of the Giro.”