Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) is still smiling two weeks into his first grand tour.
He certainly has reason to be. The 22-year-old rookie is hanging tough with the big boys, slotting into 11th overall at 6:05 back in what’s proving to be the most competitive Vuelta a España in a decade.
“My sensations are good. I think one of these days I can be a contender for one of these things. First I got to just do it,” Van Garderen told VeloNews in Burgos. “I wish there was a stage race that was 15 days long, that’s a middle ground between the grand tours and the one-week tours. I’m still feeling OK, but the next three days are going to be hard.”
Van Garderen is doing well for his first major grand tour, but he wants more. His first goal is to reach Madrid when the Vuelta finishes September 19, but he doesn’t want to end this race without trying something first. He’ll get the chance in three straight mountaintop finishes that are on tap at the Vuelta.
The HTC-Columbia rider has also been lending a hand the past few days in the bunch sprints, with teammate Mark Cavendish winning two stages in a row.
Van Garderen admitted he couldn’t quite match the speed of the top GC contenders in Andorra in Wednesday’s stage when he slipped out of the top-10 overall.
“It was crazy fast up that hill, I couldn’t believe how fast they were going. I did my best to fight as hard as I could, I wasn’t great, I slipped out of the top 10,” he explained. “I want to keep fighting and see where I end up, that was my plan from the beginning.”
With Van Garderen making progress in the Vuelta, his good friend Taylor Phinney won the prologue of the Tour de l’Avenir, a race where Van Garderen finished second overall last year. Phinney held the lead for two stages before crashing and losing time.
“(Phinney’s) incredible. It’s too bad about the crash; he needs a bit of luck to balance out his talent,” he said. “He’s going to win big races some races some day. It’s not a surprise of winning the prologue. It was just a formality, really.”