Last July, American Tejay van Garderen saw his Tour de France leadership role at BMC Racing fizzle during stage 17, when he was dropped on the slopes of the Col de la Forclaz. Up ahead, van Garderen’s teammate Richie Porte rode off with the rest of the GC contenders, securing his spot as the team’s new hope. Until that point, van Garderen, 28, had been BMC’s Tour leader since 2012.
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In the weeks following the race, team management presented van Garderen with two options for 2018. He could accept his new role as Porte’s super-domestique for the Tour and spend three weeks shepherding the Australian around France. Or, van Garderen could lead BMC at the Giro d’Italia, a race he’d never done. After several days of contemplation, van Garderen decided to take on the Giro.
Since then, the Italian grand tour’s lineup has swelled with GC talent, with Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana, Bauke Mollema, and Steven Kruijswijk (among others) joining the list.
Considering the Giro’s demanding course and talent-packed field, van Garderen will face perhaps his toughest challenge yet as a GC rider.
VeloNews caught up with him to discuss his Giro ambitions.
VeloNews: Are you viewing your Giro start as a demotion at BMC?
Van Garderen: You can look at it however you want. Richie is on the team and he’s now the No. 1 guy. I used to be the No. 1 guy and I’m not anymore. That’s not something to pout about. It’s the situation, so my goal is to make the best for me, and that’s the Giro. I’m super-motivated to race the Giro. I saw it as an opportunity rather than a step down.
VN: What conclusions have you made about your form at last year’s Tour?
TVG: I felt empty but I couldn’t pin it on any one thing. I think I was a bit over-trained heading into the race. I showed up a bit too light. I didn’t have the reserves that everyone else had because I think I had focused a bit too much on power-to-weight, and tried to get too skinny. You might not be as robust in the third week.
VN: Why did you choose to do the Giro over racing for Richie at the Tour?
TVG: Mainly I didn’t want there to be any tension between Richie and me. Seeing how he’s gone over the past few years, it was obvious that Richie was the leader; I wasn’t going to argue that. But at the same time, I would still argue that I am a grand tour contender and I deserve to be a leader — it just wasn’t going to be at the Tour. Looking at the Giro course, there are 50 kilometers of time trialing, which is good for me. After the 2014 Tour, I saw the Giro route and asked if I could take a break from the Tour and do the Giro. The team said no because I was their only Tour rider. Now that we have Richie, I almost look at it as if I’m getting to do what I asked to do two years ago.
VN: Do you have any favorite Giro moments?
TVG: I watched in 2003 when [Gilberto] Simoni won, and back then I was a big [Marco] Pantani fan. It was his final time showing himself at the race. I remember seeing them ride over these passes, through huge snow banks — epic long stages and brutally steep climbs. The race seemed so random and all over the place. This was during the “Lance era” when everything seemed so methodical and controlled, so what stuck out to me about [the Giro] was that lack of control. I think we can expect that this year.
VN: The GC lineup this year gets stronger every week.
TVG: I definitely didn’t choose to do the Giro to avoid any riders, so it’s great that it’s a strong field. Other than Contador and Froome, it seems like every GC guy out there is headed to the Giro. I think it brings a lot more credibility to this year’s race. I think more nationalities are taking notice of the Giro. Even 10 years ago it seemed like it was an Italian affair, but now the Dutch guys are going, and Thibaut Pinot will be there. It’s a really international field.
VN: How do you see this year’s race playing out?
TVG: You definitely can’t give away any time in the first week. If you lose three minutes on Mount Etna [stage 4], then it’s going to be hard to make up. Of course, Nibali was five minutes down last year and then the race just turned on its head, and the next thing you knew he was the winner. I think there are guys who will lose 10 minutes early and then lob some long bombs for the rest of the race. I want to have more of a traditional strategy where I stick with the GC guys and then ride my race.
I don’t have a strategy of losing time and then throwing long bombs, but of course that’s always a possibility. So you have the big summit finish on Blockhaus, and then the big time trial in the last week. We’re doing the Stelvio twice and there’s the Mortirolo. It’s just going to be bonkers.
VN: How would you compare your Giro preparation to your Tour prep?
TVG: It didn’t look a whole lot different. After Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta a Catalunya, I’ll have a month of training and recon on Mount Etna. That’s pretty similar to what I did last year. I’ll then do Tour de Romandie and the Giro. It’s not like I was on the bike early. In the past I would start around the same time and build through the spring season, then take a bit of a rest and then build back up for the Tour. So you had two peaks. Now it’s more like it’s going to be one spring season and one peak aimed at the Giro.
VN: What’s motivating you at this year’s Giro?
TVG: I don’t have any questions about motivation. The fact that I want to do the Giro means I’m still motivated to go out there and be a leader and win races. It would have been easy to say, “You know what? I’m not your guy. Richie is your guy. I’ll train and be relaxed and show up to the Tour to help out.” I want to lead. I think that shows my motivation. I still go out on my training rides and do my intervals without distraction. If I stop being able to do that, then I might have to question a few things.