PAU, France (VN) — BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen will travel new roads as he pushes for a Tour de France podium in Paris in two weeks.
The American from Colorado has twice finished fifth in the Tour, but never reached the top 3. In 2012, Bradley Wiggins won with 11:04 over van Garderen and in 2014, Vincenzo Nibali had 11:24 on him.
On Tuesday morning at the Tour start village in Pau, van Garderen was only 12 seconds behind race leader Chris Froome (Sky). In the big mountain stages ahead, first in the Pyrénées and then in the Alps, anything is possible.
Sky’s boss David Brailsford, who guided Wiggins and Froome to the Tour wins, said van Garderen’s biggest challenge is the unknown.
“I don’t see a weakness, [he is] just going into a new environment,” Brailsford said.
“Some people cope fantastically well. You have to go through that uncharted territory when you win for the first time. That’s where he’s going. We’ll have to see how he copes with it.”
Van Garderen led the Critérium du Dauphiné, a pre-Tour tester, for two days and pushed Froome to the end. He conceded victory, but only by 10 seconds on the last day.
The stage race was a boost, but so was the solid and consistent spring the 26-year-old had.
“Is he serious? He’s a bit of an unknown. We don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows,” Brailsford added.
“He’s going into new territory. The question is can he back it up over three weeks, can he handle the pressure? The Dauphiné’s a big race, but it’s not the Tour de France. Part of this environment is the mental load as much as the physical challenge.”
Froome called van Garderen his “biggest threat” after what he has seen so far and based on the classification. He admitted the mountains are still to come, where riders like Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who is 1:03 behind Froome, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), at 1:59, are expected to shine.
On Tuesday, the Tour heads into the high mountains for the first time in 2015. The 10th stage ends with the Col de la Pierre summit finish in the Pyrenees at 1,540 meters above sea level.
“It’s not a surprise that Tejay’s riding the way he is,” Froome explained. “I rode against him in the Dauphiné, he was impressive. There is only a narrow margin and I do expect him to be up there.”
Froome passed through the same uncharted territory before winning the Tour de France in 2013. Before that, his grand tour results were an 83rd in the 2008 Tour and a 34th in the 2009 Giro d’Italia. In 2011, he placed second in the Vuelta a España, and he followed that up with another second place working for Wiggins in the 2012 Tour. Froome was also fourth in the 2012 Vuelta.
Van Garderen appears ready to break the barrier and travel to the other side.
“My strength is not going to be to be able to fly up the road to drop Contador and Quintana, it’s my consistency. I have the feeling they will have to jump and jump, but if can stay calm, I think my consistency will become a factor the third week,” van Garderen said.
“The real race is going to happen in the last week. You have to keep your powder dry until then, until La Toussuire or Alpe d’Huez.”