American veteran cyclist Tejay van Garderen will retire from pro cycling to follow the 2021 USA Cycling national championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, this coming weekend.
His team EF Educataion-Nippo announced on social media that van Garderen, 32, will race through the national championships, with the aim of retiring on a win.
“I feel like it’s time. I’m okay. I’m ready,” van Garderen said. “I’m extremely proud of everything I accomplished in my career. I know personally how hard I worked to achieve what I’ve achieved, and I know what level I was able to hit. Results aside, I know that I got the best out of myself. I wish there were times that I had got to that level just a bit more often or more frequently. But, I know what level I was able to hit. I’m certainly happy with what I’ve done.”
Van Garderen is one of the most decorated American road cyclists ever, and the most accomplished American GC rider of his generation, which included Taylor Phinney, Peter Stetina, Alex Howes, and others. He won the Amgen Tour of California in 2013 and scored two overall victories at the USA Pro Challenge (2013, 2014), and recorded top finishes at multiple other weeklong European stage races.
He roared into the top echelon of grand tour riders during the 2012 Tour de France, when he finished fifth place overall and won the Best Young Rider jersey at age 21. Van Garderen rode the Tour de France nine times, finishing fifth overall in 2014.
His success made him the cornerstone of the powerful BMC Racing team, which he joined in 2012 after starting his WorldTour career off with Team HTC-Columbia. In 2019 van Garderen joined EF Education First as a co-leader in grand tours and stage races.
Van Garderen’s early success vaulted him into leadership positions in grand tour racing and also placed tremendous pressures on him to perform. His best results came during the early years of his WorldTour career, and van Garderen battled through years of near misses and setbacks at the Tour de France and other races in his later 20s.
“I can understand why a lot of people are probably going to be left wanting more,” he said, “Because they saw the results I achieved at a really young age. I stayed consistent for a number of years at a high level, but I never really broke through to that next level. That’s what people wanted to see. I understand that. That’s okay for them to want because people like their winners.”
There were plenty of high points during this period of his career, even though van Garderen never bagged an elusive grand tour podium. He won stages of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de Suisse, and bagged two second-place finishes at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Those results, when matched with his earlier success, placed van Garderen on the ‘riders to watch’ lists at any stage race he entered. He also represented the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Van Garderen said the decision to retire stems from his performance in recent races. He was looking forward to helping mentor EF Education-Nippo’s rising star, Hugh Carthy, to grand tour success. But recently, van Garderen said he wasn’t able to ride into the front group in the high mountains, and that was a sign that it was time to bow out.
“The honest truth is that I don’t feel super effective as a bike racer anymore,” he said. “Once your ability starts to be less than it was, you have to find a way to make yourself effective. I was really motivated by the rise of Hugh Carthy, and I wanted to be able to mentor him and help him. I said, ‘Okay, I’m still a good climber. Maybe I can stay with him in the high mountains and give him support.’ I’m not skilled enough to be like those cobbled classics guys who are able to shepherd their leader through all the tricky sections. We have guys like Jens Keukeleire and Alberto Bettiol who are much more effective at that than I could ever be. But the truth is I wasn’t able to just climb into a group of the 20 best anymore, to be able to give a leader like Hugh support in the high mountains. So I was riding around thinking, well, what do I do? How am I effective in the race? And if I really took a good, honest look in the mirror, I said, “Well, if you have eight people to fill a roster, I could name eight people that would serve a purpose better than I could serve that purpose.”
Born in Tacoma, Washington, van Garderen grew up in Montana and also the Front Range of Colorado. These days he lives outside of Aspen, Colorado, with his wife, Jessica, and their two children.