PAU, France (VN) — Fab four? Make it five.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC), left out of the ‘fab four’ group of favorites prior to the Tour de France and ranked as a second-tier contender for the overall, has ridden his way into the Tour’s elite in its first week.
Van Garderen’s chances have always been discussed in the vocabulary of podium potential, not victory. But speaking at a press conference on the Tour’s first rest day, he slotted himself firmly into the group that will fight for yellow in Paris.
“The Backstreet Boys, they had five guys,” he said, laughing. With four, he said, “it seemed a little incomplete.”
Van Garderen has always been reserved but confident, unlikely to make grand statements or allow his tongue to write checks his legs couldn’t cash. He’s said before that he wants to win the Tour; the difference, on Monday, was that for the first time he sounded like he believed it.
“It doesn’t matter what their names are or what they’ve done. Everyone’s clock starts at zero in Utrecht, and we’re here to win,” he said to the assembled press.
Chris Froome (Sky) seems to agree. He named van Garderen as his “main rival” following Sunday’s team time trial.
The distinction placed upon him by the former Tour-winner and current race-leader was “special,” van Garderen said. “It’s an honor. He’s such a big rider; he’s won the Tour de France, to have him have his eye on me, that’s a huge honor.”
Was van Garderen offended at the pre-Tour fab-four snub? Not at all. But, as he said prior to the Tour’s start, he wants to be counted among them, and soon.
“Those guys, they’ve all won grand tours, and I have not. I haven’t even been on the podium of one. So it’s logical that those guys were the five-star favorites, and I think it was nice to fly under the radar a bit,” he said Monday.
Into the mountains
The young American now sits 12 seconds behind yellow jersey Froome as the race exits the cool, rolling hills of Western France and turns left along its southern border, into and across the arid, hot Pyrénées.
As the race turns to the mountains, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) sit 1:03, 2:22, and 1:59 behind Froome, respectively. They will need to attack, while Froome and van Garderen simply need to defend.
That will play into the hands of the Brit and the American in the race’s difficult third week.
“If I’m realistic, in the Pyrénées, I’m going to need to follow the guys who are important and take the opportunity if it’s there, but really use it as an opportunity to let other guys wear themselves down,” van Garderen said.
“I think my strength is going to be in my consistency, rather than my ability to fly up the climb and leave everyone in my dust.”
The burden of time lost will affect the tactics of Contador, Nibali, and Quintana, forcing them to be more aggressive and use energy ahead of a third week that will likely be the setting for the biggest time gaps of the race.
Van Garderen named the final two mountain stages as the most important.
“The real race is in the third week,” he said. “It’s not a sprint race, it’s a marathon. It’s going to be won on La Toussuire or Alpe d’Huez. You have to your keep powder dry [until then].”