Van Garderen Q&A: ‘The only thing I want to do is ball’
Tejay van Garderen is in the middle of a busy off-season as he gears up for his first team transfer since the start of 2012.
The 30-year-old American is headed to EF Education First after spending seven seasons with BMC Racing.
VeloNews caught up with van Garderen before he headed to EF’s first offseason training camp to get his take on the transition to a new team, his ambitions moving forward, and his career at the “midway point,” as well as a few thoughts on the Amgen Tour of California — where van Garderen rode to a stage victory and runner-up honors in 2018.
VeloNews: Tejay, what have you been up to over the off-season?
Tejay van Garderen: We’ve got a place in California and also a place in Basalt, Colorado, so we’re kind of in the process of getting both of those houses set up. Our plan is to split time between those two places. I’m in California right now in the Santa Ynez Valley.
That’s where I’ve been basing myself over the winters throughout the years, so finally we were just like, you know what, it’s about time we get a place out here because we love it out here so much. And I always get really good training done here.
VN: The Amgen Tour of California has announced some basics of the 2019 route — what’s your take so far?
TvG: Obviously, the two things that stuck out to me were the Mount Baldy stage and the absence of a time trial.
VN: Being a good time trialist, are you bummed to see no TT next year?
TvG: I can’t say I like the direction that cycling, in general, is going with the limited time trial kilometers. You see that happening in the Tour and in a lot of the stage races throughout the year, they’re minimizing the time trials. You see that in a lot of sports though. People want to see big explosions on climbs. They don’t want to see more of a defensive-style race. You see that in the NFL right now, with protecting the quarterbacks, or in the NBA, where defense is almost illegal. I think that’s the same kind of vision they’re having right now with cycling. They think that if you have a time trial specialist, they can ride defensively on the climbs and gain all the time in the TT and that’s what they want to avoid.
My opinion is that it brings more people into the mix. You have the climbers that are forced to attack hard and set the pace hard to unload the time trialers, whereas otherwise, they might not be as worried about us because they know, okay, we don’t need to worry about this guy, and really it’s just a race between less people. That’s my take on it.
VN: What’s your take on Baldy? What do you remember from doing that climb in the past?
TvG: It’s been a while since I’ve done Baldy but I have tackled it a couple of times. The thing I remember most about it is how hot it can be. It just bakes in the sun there. It’s just super exposed. I guess that’s why they call it Baldy. It’s bald and there’s no shade. And it’s super steep. Those two factors will definitely play a key role.
VN: What kind of vibe and atmosphere are you expecting from EF in comparison to the way things were at BMC?
TvG: I think they definitely have a more relaxed philosophy. Lower pressure, so to speak. I think their philosophy is that you have to enjoy it, you have to have fun. BMC was really focused on WorldTour points. I think EF is going to have more of a focus on quality victories, regardless of whether or not they attribute to a WorldTour ranking. For them, races like Tour of Utah or Colorado Classic or Tour of California, races that don’t carry a whole lot of weight in the WorldTour, it’s still going to be important to them because it’s an American race, an American team and sponsors, and it’s a place where you can get a quality win.
It’s less like, if we don’t perform at the Volta a Catalunya, they’re not going to start stressing that we’re down on points. Not to say that there is not going to be pressure attached to getting results or certain races where we’re going to try to perform, but it’s a different mindset on what we’re trying to achieve.
VN: Will you be targeting some of those American races in 2019?
TvG: I’d like to. I haven’t had a full sit-down with what my program is going to be and laid everything out in that respect, but I think I’m trying to spend a little bit more time in the U.S. There’s certainly historical races that I’m trying to target in the spring and summer over in Europe, but for me and for my family and just general happiness, being able to spend a little bit more time at home would be good. And I have a perfect opportunity to do that with all these races that are here.
VN: Have you spoken with the team about your expected role and where you fit into the team plans?
TvG: I think another kind of key difference between BMC and the way EF functions is that they don’t really seem to go into a race with like, ‘You’re our leader, we’re all rallying around you, we have one goal.’ It’s more of like, ‘If you have good legs and you show up, we’ll show up with multiple goals but if you’re proving you’re fit, we’ll rally around you.’ I think that’s a much healthier approach because it seemed like on BMC, if you would go in with the approach of everything’s for one guy and that guy has a bad day, you kind of are left with nothing.
I think it was quite often that we’d show up to the classics and it would be all for Phil [Gilbert]. Sometimes Phil would perform, he’d win Amstel and it would be great. Other times he might have a bad day or a puncture at a wrong time and the team ends up with absolutely nothing. They really did this all-or-nothing approach and there were a lot of times that we were left disappointed. On EF, if you’re good, you’re good. You can go and take your chance, ask for help, and it will be more of a group effort. The pressure is a little bit more evenly distributed and everyone can have your chance.
VN: Do you think that opportunism will translate into you becoming more of a stage-hunter next year and focusing less on GC?
TvG: When I look back on my career, my talents are in GC. It’s a bit more of a straightforward way to approach things. If I go into a race saying, “I’m just going to stage-hunt,” and I sit in the gruppetto and let opportunities slip, and then I pick my day and I miss the breakaway, or I pick my day and someone has better legs than me that day, well, there’s never guarantees in anything but there’s so much less guarantee when you’re stage-hunting. Most of the races I go to, I’m going to go with the ambition of GC and use stage-hunting as a backup. If I have an unlucky crash or puncture or something happens, then it’s, “Okay, reassess the goals, now we’re stage-hunting.”
VN: Do you have a sense of whether you’ll be racing a grand tour next year, and if so, which one?
TvG: I hope to do the Tour.
VN: Do you know where you’d slot into the Tour de France squad riding alongside Rigo?
TvG: It’s the way I just answered the question a couple of minutes ago — less going in with the goal of, “We’re all for one guy.” If we end up going to the Tour and they say, “Everything is for Rigo, we’re 100 percent dedicated to Rigo,” I’m fine with that. But that’s not the sense I get from the philosophy of the team. It’s more like I laid out before: “You guys take your chances and we’ll help you guys out.” Things happen and you have to go with the flow of the race. I don’t expect the whole team to be everything for Rigo, and I don’t expect everything to be for me. I think we can work together well and I think everyone’s going to have their chance.
VN: What are you expecting from being on a team where you’ll know so many of the riders from coming up through the ranks as a young American rider?
TvG: I’m excited. A lot of these guys I’ve been teammates with in the past. Taylor [Phinney], I was obviously teammates with on BMC, but then guys like Alex Howes, we were teammates way back in the day when we were racing with juniors on 5280. The young crop of Americans, the Craddocks and all those guys. BMC was technically an American team but it felt more Swiss or more Belgian. I feel like this is truly an American team. Just the vibes and the culture that you’re going to get from that, it’s going to definitely feel more at home.
VN: What do you see as the next step in your career, the goals that are still motivating you? Do you see yourself still improving as a stage racer?
TvG: Honestly, the only thing I want to do is ball. I’ve had my fair share of disappointment the past few years but I’ve also had a fair amount of success. It was only just last year in 2017 that I did get a top 10 and a stage win in two different grand tours. And it was only just last year that I podiumed in the Tour of California. I still think the GC tools are still there.
I don’t want to plan my whole season around targeting one race because that can set you up for a colossal failure. I want everywhere I go to be an opportunity to get a result. If that’s the Tour of California, the Dauphiné, the Tour de France, I just want to go, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy racing my bike and enjoy the process and the hard work, and get the most out of myself.
I’m 30 years old now so I’m definitely at that midway point, but when I look at it, a lot of guys, their best years are in their 30s. I feel like I’ve got a lot more in the tank and a lot more to give and a lot more motivation. So I just want to put it all out there.
VN: Do you feel like the big successes you’ve had in recent years would stand for themselves more if it hadn’t been for those big successes early in your career? Does something like a Tour de France top five overshadow the recent results?
TvG: I don’t want to sell myself short because I know what I’m capable of. It’s almost like I’m able to say, ‘Oh look, I did that, so therefore I’m not that bad.’ But it’s still not living up to the potential. I feel like, yeah, I’m held to a little bit of a higher standard because people expect more, but it’s more about the expectation I put on myself.
I’m not saying I’m going to go and podium in the Tour, but I’m also not going to say it’s not something I [would] strive for.
VN: Do the expectations those early results set still motivate you now?
TvG: You need a lot of things to go right. It’s not just a matter of having the tools to do it. I look at other incredibly talented riders like Richie Porte, he’s had some incredibly bad luck these past few years. He was fifth at the Tour one time but even that result was like, “What if he didn’t have some of the bad luck he had early on?”
You can only control what you can control. All I’ll say is that I definitely recognize that I have the potential. I wouldn’t be depressed if it never happened for me but at the same time, it’s not like I’m giving up on striving for it.
VN: Will you be striving for wins on the dirt at the “alternative” races EF is planning to do in 2019?
TvG: No — I haven’t discussed my full program, but if you’re asking if that’s something I’m interested in, then no.
VN: To wrap it up: Where can we expect to see you next, your first races in 2019?
TvG: Well, I’ve mentioned my interest in doing [Tour of Colombia] and then heading over to Europe, I’ll do probably a couple of early, March WorldTour stage races like Paris-Nice, Catalunya. And then I might take a little break, come back to the States, start gearing up for the summer races like California, Dauphiné, Tour. After that, we’ll see. Maybe it will be Utah, Colorado, or whatever else ends up presenting itself. Like I said, that’s a rough outline that I’m drawing up in my head right now. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more in the next week once I have my meetings with the directors and all that stuff.