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MOLFETTA, Italy (VN) — BMC Racing is playing it lean and mean in a bid to keep Tejay van Garderen in the running at the 2017 Giro d’Italia until the final decisive week in the Dolomites.
Rather than bring a Tour de France-style train to the Giro, BMC has appointed a few key riders — Manuel Quinziato, Joey Rosskopf and Fran Ventoso — to guide van Garderen through the treacheries of the Giro’s first week.
“I want to keep it simple,” said BMC Racing sport director Max Sciandri. “Italy is geographically different than France; the roads are smaller, narrower, it’s left, right, up and down. If you go around in a small Italian sports car, you get around better than with a big truck.”
So far, that “less-is-more” strategy is working.
Although the team lost Rohan Dennis in a bad-luck, first-week crash, van Garderen remained safely tucked in with the leaders going into a pair of decisive stages that should reveal who has the legs to truly challenge for the pink jersey.
Van Garderen has survived the first week of the Giro debut with his GC options intact. Van Garderen fielded a few questions from a handful of journalists before Saturday’s explosive stage.
“At the Tour, it seems tense from kilometer zero all the way to the end. Here it seems a bit more relaxed in the beginning, then it’s really, really tense in the end,” he said. “So here, it’s a bit easier to move around, and you don’t need a whole team around you. Sometimes with it being a bit more tranquil in the start, that means people have fresher legs in the finale, and it’s even a bigger fight … It’s a different style of racing, but I’m enjoying it.”
The action livened up Saturday with a big breakaway and fireworks in the finale. Up next is Sunday’s uphill finale at Blockhaus — a steeper climb than Mount Etna — followed by the second rest day and the equally decisive 39.8km time trial Tuesday in Tuscany.
If van Garderen can survive the next hurdle, he could be in the pole position for a grand tour podium as the Giro steers into the Alps and Dolomites next week. So far, everything is on track.
Van Garderen’s guardians know their roles. Ventoso is a rolleur who rides the front when BMC needs to up the pace. Rosskopf slips in directly behind van Garderen, ready to swap his bike, which are nearly the same as van Garderen’s measurements, in case there is a mechanical or crash at a critical moment. And then there’s Manuel Quinziato, a 16-year veteran racing his final grand tour, who acts as van Garderen’s pilot and bodyguard in the meat of each stage.
Running tactics and posting up as the lead director is Max Sciandri, the former pro and longtime confidant to such riders as Taylor Phinney and Mark Cavendish. Sciandri brings a calming influence inside the team bus, and has been patiently guiding his riders through each decisive moment of the Giro. Rather than pile the entire weight of the race on van Garderen’s shoulders, Sciandri has broken it up into servings, much like a long, full-course Italian dinner.
The “antipasti” were Sardinia and Sicily, the “primi piatti” are the decisive stages this weekend, and the “secondi piatti” are the Dolomites in the decisive final week. They’re hoping there’s some “dolce” waiting in Milan if van Garderen can pull off the miracle.
“He’s confident, and he’s relaxed as he can be in a bike race. That’s what I want,” Sciandri said. “We broke this Giro down into parts, so it’s not a 3,500km monster in front of you: get off the islands, get through the transition stages, focus on the time trial, and then go into the last week. It’s broken down to see it in a different way, so we can get to Milan with real chances [to win].”
Going into Saturday’s explosive finale, it seemed to be working. Van Garderen has confidence in his “crew,” and quietly fist-pumped Rosskopf at the finish line in Messina in stage 5 after making it safely out of Sicily.
Van Garderen wants a strong Giro to prove the doubters wrong. Twice fifth overall in the Tour, van Garderen needs and wants to finish high on the Giro GC. When asked about the decisive stages this weekend, van Garderen wasn’t taking his eye off the eight-ball. He knew he needed to survive Saturday’s stage first.
“You gotta crawl before you can walk,” he said. “You have to make it through today before we can start thinking about Blockhaus.”
One stage at a time: it’s a cycling cliché, but so far it’s been working through this Giro.