Tejay Van Garderen had a big grin on his face when he crossed the finish line in Madrid in Sunday’s final stage at the 2010 Vuelta a España. He had plenty of reason to celebrate.
Not only did his HTC-Columbia teammates Peter Velits and Mark Cavendish finish on the final podium, with third overall and the points jersey, respectively, but Van Garderen survived what many called the hardest Vuelta in years in what was his grand tour debut.
“They always say the Vuelta is relaxed, big roads, late starts, Spanish style, this has been full gas from the gun, I am happy it’s over,” Van Garderen told VeloNews in Madrid. “I got a bit of stomach bug in the last week, it was because I was so fatigued that I got it. It’s not an excuse or anything. It was really important for me to get through it. It’s good for the legs, I am feeling better now and I am stoked to be part of such a successful squad.”
HTC-Columbia enjoyed its most successful grand tour, with victory in the team time trial, stage victories with Velits in the individual time trial and three sprint victories and the points jersey for Cavendish.
Van Garderen was hanging around the top-10 overall until he suffered a bad day in the Vuelta’s queen stage, the four-climb march across the mountains of Asturias finishing atop the new climb at Cotobello. He became unglued early in the stage and ceded more than 30 minutes, but rather than give up, Van Garderen kept fighting and finished off the Vuelta strong.
“I got dropped that day and had an awful day, it was that night I got the bug. I was feeling OK that morning, it was just getting pounded and pounded every day, I was feeling a little fatigued,” Van Garderen explained. “It was OK, I was able to fight up there for 15 days of a tour, maybe next year I can fight for 21 days of a tour and maybe the year after that I will even be able to attack the leaders of a tour, so if I follow the natural progression, I am on the three-year plan.”
The Vuelta capped a strong debut season in the elite pro ranks for Van Garderen, who also rode to an impressive third place in the Critérium du Dauphiné in June. HTC-Columbia brass broke one of their unwritten rules about keeping young, first-year pros out of grand tours in their rookie seasons, but made an exception with Van Garderen.
The 21-year-old will conclude his season in his first elite men’s world championships in Australia, where he will ride the individual time trial and the road race in support of Tyler Farrar.
After that, he’ll enjoy some down time before looking ahead to 2011, when he hopes to make his Tour de France debut.
“I have no idea what the calendar is going to be like. I don’t know about the Giro or if I will race the Tour of California. I’d really like to do the Tour, that’s the big one, I don’t know if they still think I am too young or if they want to send more of a sprinter’s squad for Cav,” he said. “I am definitely going to be back to one of the three-week races next year and hopefully one day be a contender in them.”