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MURET, France (VN) — Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) has been delivering day-in and day-out in this Tour de France, starting Saturday’s stage second overall.
BMC Racing brought a team packed with brawny, classics-style riders and time trial powerhouses to steamroll van Garderen through the first half of the Tour, a strategy that paid off handsomely, with three stage wins and a stint in the yellow jersey.
In the mountains, BMC is counting on one man, Spanish veteran Samuel Sánchez. So far, that bet is also paying off.
The 2008 Olympic champion and winner of the king of the mountains jersey at the 2011 Tour, Sánchez has been the last man standing for van Garderen on the big climbs.
“I’m very motivated to help Tejay. The way he is riding, he has all the possibilities to reach the podium in Paris,” Sánchez told VeloNews. “I am giving everything to be there for him on the climbs as long as possible.”
At 37, Sánchez is the first to admit his best years are behind him. Fourth in the 2010 Tour, subsequently bumped up to second following the disqualifications of Alberto Contador and Dennis Menchov, and twice a podium man at the Vuelta a España, Sánchez is proudly stepping into the role as road captain and mountain guard for van Garderen.
And Sánchez has been delivering. Sky has strength in numbers, with Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte pacing yellow jersey Chris Froome across the Pyrénées, but many of the other GC contenders have been quickly isolated. Van Garderen, however, has been able to count on Sánchez being right there, or hovering very close.
Having Sánchez around, both on and off the bike, is giving van Garderen an extra confidence boost as the race pedals into the decisive stages in the Alps.
“He’s definitely a very experienced captain. He always keeps me calm, and having him there as the last guy on the climb is a good safety net,” van Garderen said. “In case I come into troubles, he can pace me, or if I have a bit of bad luck, he can give me a wheel, or do whatever he can.”
Having Sánchez pacing him on the climbs will be critical to van Garderen’s podium hopes, especially with the likes of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde all putting a very big target on the American. Froome looks unbeatable, so everyone will be shooting to dislodge van Garderen from second place.
“If I need a last-minute gel, he’s there to give it to me, or if I fall off the pace, he can pace me to the top, or I have a mechanical, he’s there to help,” van Garderen said. “It’s a huge benefit to have someone there in the mountains.”
On his own personal GC aspirations, Sánchez simply said he doesn’t have any. Despite starting Saturday’s 14th stage at 13th overall, he said he’s all in for van Garderen.
“Where I am on GC is coincidental. I am high on GC because I am going as deep as I can to go far in the mountains for Tejay. It’s anecdotal,” Sánchez said. “I could lose a lot of time one day, and it won’t matter, so long as I am there for Tejay when the team needs me.”
BMC Racing picked up Sánchez early in 2014 following the collapse of Euskaltel-Euskadi at the end of 2013, the only professional team for which Sánchez had raced since turning pro in 2001.
With 17 grand tours and nearly 30 pro wins in his legs, Sánchez gives BMC added experience and stability as van Garderen enters the decisive phase of the podium hunt.
“He leads by example. He’s steady; he doesn’t over-react. He keeps things on an even keel,” BMC Racing manager Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews. “For us, it’s important to have an elder statesman on the team, and he’s been our guy. When we need him, he’s there.”
How much longer remains to be seen. Sánchez will race through the Vuelta a España this year, and has hinted he’d like to race in the 2016 Olympic Games before closing out his career, but he remains uncommitted about his future.
“I have not yet decided about my future, on whether or not I want to race next year. It would be nice to return to the Olympics, but I am holding off that decision until this Tour is over,” Sánchez said. “Right now, I am only thinking about the Tour.”