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BMC: Yellow jersey a “realistic goal” for 2016

BMC has a long list of 2016 objectives, but the most eyebrow-raising is the Tour de France, which it hopes to win in 2016.

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DENIA, Spain (VN) — BMC Racing is shooting for the stars with ambitious 2016 goals that include targeting cycling’s biggest jersey of them all, the maillot jaune.

On the same day that team owner Andy Rihs confirmed that his BMC brand will continue backing the outfit through at least 2017, team officials outlined their collective goals. In no specific order, they are: defend the world team time trial championship, win a monument, finish among the top-three in the end-of-season team ranking, and, if that wasn’t enough, win the Tour de France.

BMC certainly has the firepower to aim high. It won the world team time trial championships two years running, and has consistently finished among the top teams in the season-long rankings, although it was sixth this year. And with the likes of Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet, one of the season’s five monuments is realistic. Gilbert is a proven winner across the Ardennes, and Van Avermaet has earned podiums at both Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix.

But the notion of winning the Tour de France? Huh? The arrival of Richie Porte from Team Sky, who will link up with Tejay van Garderen as Tour co-captains, gives the team more heft, but neither has won a grand tour, let alone reached the Tour podium.

BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz brushed off any suggestion that the team is hoping too much, and said it’s important to set the bar high.

“As a team, we’ve won the Tour with Cadel [Evans in 2011], so we know how to manage the race, and we know how to win,” Ochowicz said. “We know that Tejay and Richie haven’t been on the podium, but we believe they’re capable of that, and maybe even more. It’s better to set the bar high.” Everything has to stack up perfectly to win the Tour, and in 2011, the stars aligned for Evans and BMC, who made history as Australia’s first Tour winner. BMC Racing is betting that it can happen again in 2016.

Porte’s switch from Team Sky to BMC was one of the top moves for 2016, and the feisty Tasmanian clearly bolsters BMC’s chances in the Tour. Van Garderen has twice finished fifth, and looked to be on podium form in July before he was struck down by illness going into the third week.

Ochowicz repeated his mantra; it’s better to be ambitious than to settle for less.

“It’s better to aim for the top than already set lower goals,” Ochowicz said. “And we think those are all realistic goals.”

Van Garderen agreed that it’s better to have higher ambitions rather than going into a race as demanding as the Tour with anything less than victory in mind.

“You have to shoot for the best. If you already go in with the goal that’s less than victory, you already have in your mind that you’re not good enough,” van Garderen said. “So why not? Crazier things have happened.”

It might seem crazy to think that either van Garderen or Porte can win the Tour. Both are consistent performers, winning one-week stage races and nipping at the heels of the top GC riders in grand tours, but neither are proven winners over three weeks.

BMC’s bet on the pair reveals the team’s confidence in their talent, as well as a shift in strategy. With Evans, they could build the entire team around him. With the arrival of Porte, the team is now hedging its bets, hoping that he and van Garderen will be stronger as a one-two punch than they might be individually. Teams like Movistar, with Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, 2012 Sky with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, or the Schleck brothers of yore have effectively played that card in the past. And everyone knows that challenging Froome one-on-one is a difficult task for anyone, including the likes of Contador or 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who might not even race the Tour next year.

The scrappy Porte seems up for a fight. After racing alongside Froome for four years, perhaps, more than anyone else, he knows the weaknesses of the Kenyan-born Tour winner.

“It’s a funny race. You just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Porte said of the Tour. “You’ve got to have ambitions, and it’s good to be part of a setup that believe in the riders they have.”

But is it a question of over-shooting or perhaps drinking their collective Kool-Aid? Would it be better to take aim for something more realistic, like the podium? Even with Porte’s departure, Sky will be back to the Tour with Froome. Tinkoff will have a super-motivated Alberto Contador in what’s likely his final season, and Movistar will back Quintana, more eager than ever after nearly cracking Froome on l’Alpe d’Huez. The bet on winning the Tour seems like long odds.

BMC’s Brent Bookwalter, who was one of Evans’ teammates in the 2011 winning ride, said it’s better for everyone to shoot for the moon than to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground.

“It’s a great way to set the bar high,” Bookwalter said of BMC’s goals. “Why not aim for the top? We’re all inspired and motivated to race that way. It’s powerful to be at a team meeting when we say we want to win the Tour de France. That says what we’re doing. We’re not messing around. We’re shooting for the top.”