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While other WorldTour teams took in smaller events like the Vuelta a Burgos, La Route d’Occitanie, and the Tour de l’Ain prior to the mountainous Dauphiné, van Garderen’s EF Pro Cycling squad sat out.
“We took time to assess what our best protocol was going to be given the pandemic,” van Garderen said. “I think we were just a little methodical and careful about how we were going to approach racing and testing and travel and all of that stuff. So, you know, it takes time to figure that out, so I think as part of that we decided to trim up a little bit of the calendar.”
Whether the lack of racing will impact EF Pro Cycling’s riders at the Dauphiné is yet to be seen. Four of the team’s riders — Rigoberto Urán, Sergio Higuita, Daniel Martínez, and Hugh Carthy — finished in the front group alongside the race’s other top GC contenders.
Van Garderen finished stage 1 in 124th position, 14:57 down. The American was then dropped from the main field with 10km remaining on stage 2. Van Garderen said skipping the early races may impact EF this week, however, the decision could prove to be a wise one later in the season.
“I think that might put us on a little bit of the back foot coming into this race, but I could pay dividends coming into the third week of the Tour de France when we might be a little bit more fresh,” van Garderen said.
The big news at EF Pro Cycling this week was the announcement that the squad’s Canadian climber, Michael Woods, will depart the squad after 2020 to join Israel Start-Up Nation. Woods has led EF Pro Cycling’s ambitions at hilly classics and at grand tours over the past five seasons.
Van Garderen said Woods’ departure is part of the ebb and flow of pro cycling’s transfer market — many riders, himself included, are not sure where they will end up next season.
“Obviously Mike’s done a lot for this team. We appreciate all the time that he’s spent here. We wish him the best wherever he goes,” van Garderen said. “I mean, at the moment, I don’t have a contract for next year. So, how it’s actually going to affect me, I have no idea until I actually sign somewhere.”
EF’s roster at the Critérium du Dauphiné provides a glimpse of the squad’s ambitions in September, with the roster teeming with top climbers. Urán leads the team alongside countrymen Higuita and Martínez, with Carthy and van Garderen riding as top climbing lieutenants. Jens Keukeleire and Tanel Kangert are also veterans of grand tours who can help shepherd riders across the flats.
After the race, the team will head to Andorra for a customary final altitude camp to tune things up before the Tour. Only this year, the camp will be held under the restrictions of COVID-19. That means no family, no media, and little contact with the outside world.
“The whole long team is going to kind of ‘bubble’ together in Andorra. We’re going to be isolated from families and everybody to make sure that we’re all safe from COVID-19,” van Garderen said. “The only thing we’re going to be doing is training, and then back in the hotels and make sure that everything is clean, and we’re not coming into contact with anyone.”