Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) isn’t worried that the cycling world won’t call him a five-star favorite for next month’s Tour de France.
To be in the second tier, behind the peloton’s “Fab Four” is just fine for van Garderen, who starts his fifth Tour de France with hopes of securing star billing sometime in the very near future.
“There’s a reason that they’re put in that five-star favorite status,” van Garderen told journalists in a conference call Wednesday. “I hope after this year’s Tour to be put in the realm with those guys. I’m not offended in any way that I’m not mentioned with them. [There is] no harm not being mentioned in those four names.”
Those “four names” are the Tour’s top contenders: Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Many expect the battle for the yellow jersey to play out between that quartet. That’s something that van Garderen is hoping to use to his advantage as he leads a deep BMC Racing squad into the season’s most important stage race.
Following his recent, solid showing at the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he was second to Froome in a thrilling duel across the French Alps, van Garderen knows that he’s inching closer to the top level.
“I believe on any given day I can beat those guys. I’ve shown already, I’ve beaten them before,” he explained. “It’s quite another thing to beat them consistently over three weeks. But if you look at past stages of races I’ve done … I am getting closer to them. It’s not when those guys attack; [that’s when] I say, ‘OK, see you later.’”
Van Garderen will lead BMC Racing in his second year as all-out captain of the team. Last year, 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans raced the Giro d’Italia, opening the door for the Coloradan to assume leadership responsibilities within the team. Battling through a tough Tour last year, which included crashes and one bad day in the Pyrénées, van Garderen rode to equal his career-best fifth, a result that he said meant more to him than his breakout ride in 2012 when he also won the best young rider’s jersey.
“Every year has been a big learning process. 2012 showed me what I was capable of. This year I feel like things have gone very smooth. I feel like I’m hitting perfect form right at the right time,” he said. “If we can avoid all the pitfalls in the first week we might just have it figured out. … The big lessons have been learned, and we’ll definitely try to avoid any big mistakes.”
BMC brings a balanced squad to back van Garderen, with a mix of climbers for the mountainous second half, but with a few seasoned veterans to help steer him through a brutal first week. Daniel Oss, Michael Schar, Greg Van Avermaet, and Manuel Quinziato will provide the brawn through the first two weekends. Somewhat surprisingly, the team tapped Spanish veteran Samuel Sánchez as well as Damiano Caruso, who rode into the top-10 at the Giro. They will both help van Garderen in the mountains. Danilo Wyss and Rohan Dennis will also assist on the climbs, with the former world hour record-holder Dennis providing an extra motor for the team time trial in stage 9. BMC won the Dauphiné’s stage 3 TTT, which served as a preview for the Tour’s team test.
Coming into this year’s Tour, van Garderen said he’s one kilogram (2.2 pounds) lighter than last year, something critical for the power-to-weight ratio going into the deep mountains of the Tour. On a recent test, he said he was consistently posting 10 watts more power on a 20-minute session compared to last year.
At 26, van Garderen is certainly a more seasoned veteran than when he made waves in first years as a pro. He’s steadily improved and matured to become a legitimate Tour podium contender.
Is this season a make-or-break year for him? Van Garderen shrugged off that suggestion, saying he’s just starting to hit his sweet spot.
“I really want to make the podium or even higher, anything’s possible,” he said. “It’s not now or never. It think I’ve got a good six to eight more years of trying to make the podium or win the Tour.”
If he could make the podium this year, you can bet that next year he’d make five-star Tour favorite status. How does the “Fab Five” sound?