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Van Garderen: ‘I want to win a GC this year’

VeloNews.com European correspondent Andrew Hood caught up with Van Garderen at BMC’s camp last week in Spain

DENIA, Spain (VN) – Tejay Van Garderen enters his third professional season with high hopes of building on the tremendous success he’s had so far in the pro ranks.

Van Garderen joins BMC this season that will see him have the pressure of helping Cadel Evans in the mountains at the Tour de France but having freedom to chase his own results in other parts of the calendar.

That suits Van Garderen just fine, who, 24 in August, is making steady progress in the peloton.

His phenomenal rookie season in 2010, capped by third at the Dauphiné, was followed up by another steady season in 2011, when he finally notched his first professional victory as well as featured in an exciting breakaway effort in his Tour debut that landed him in the best climber’s jersey.

In addition to helping Evans try to win another Tour, Van Garderen is hoping to step up this year and take aim for an overall victory of his. He doesn’t really care where it comes, just so long as it does.

VeloNews.com European correspondent Andrew Hood caught up with Van Garderen at BMC’s camp last week in Spain, here’s what he had to say:

VN.com: You’re one of the riders expected to be there to help Cadel Evans in the mountains during this year’s Tour de France, what are you expectations for that role?

Tejay Van Garderen: That’s the goal, to be there for Cadel in the high mountains. I have only done two grand tours so far, so it’s hard for me to know how I am going to be in the third week, on the final climb, of a summit finish. That’s what they’re expecting from me and that’s what I am going to try to deliver.

VN.com: Sounds like you will be a helper at the Tour and then other races, such as California and Colorado, you will be the leader, how do you see the season unfolding?

TVG: My first goal is Paris-Nice. Every race I go to, I don’t like to suck, so even at Algarve, I had some success there, that will be my warm-up for Paris-Nice, so if I can get a result there, I will try. Then Paris-Nice is a big goal. I have a few other races on the calendar, but the ‘big three’ for me this year are Paris-Nice, California and Colorado. Then the biggest one is helping Cadel in the Tour.

VN.com: What’s it like being around guys like Evans, Gilbert, Hushovd?

TVG: I thought it would be a bit nerve-racking having these big names walking around, but when we’re at the dinner table, it’s so relaxed. Gilbert is just a joker. He’s always cracking jokes and makes everyone feel like he’s just a normal guy. Even George (Hincapie), he always seems very serious, but he is silently just hilarious. Under his breath, in this monotone, when he pulls it out, he just has everyone in stitches.

VN.com: It seems like this team is very relaxed, more so than Highroad?

TVG: HTC had a good ambiance. We always had fun there, too, with Cav always cracking jokes. There was always that underlying stress, ‘OK, we have a small budget. We need to find a sponsor. We need results.’ It took away from that relaxation and it was more like cracking the whip. Here, at BMC, we have 10-year security with the future of the team. They know the results are going to come. We are all self-motivated people. There is no need to hold a knife to your throat. They let us go out there and do our thing.

VN.com: How are the two teams different?

TVG: A lot of things are similar, of course. Once you’re on the road training, it’s just a bunch of guys racing our bikes. But it is a different atmosphere. It’s a bit more relaxed, a bit looser. At HTC, we had a much stricter regime, here it’s a lot more kicked-back. At HTC, they told me which races I would be going to. Here, they asked me what races I wanted to race. The only pressure we get comes from ourselves.

VN.com: Where do you see yourself at this point of your career? In the first two years, you’ve done very well …

TVG: I need to take it step-by-step. My first year of my career, I had more success than I could have ever imagined, and I let it go to my head a little bit. Then last year, I thought I was going to win every race I was going to start, and obviously, that didn’t happen. Last year, I made a small step forward. I realized I am going to make a gigantic step and another gigantic step and another gigantic step. You have got to be patient. I made a small step in 2011 and another small step in 2012.

VN.com: So working toward … what? Winning everything you start?!

TVG: Well, building toward the Tour and being part of a Tour-winning team. I do want to win a GC. I had my first pro win last year at the Tour of Utah in the time trial, that was good to get that under my belt. The next step in that progression would be to win a GC, whether that would be California or Paris-Nice or Colorado, even something like Tour d’Ain or Algarve. Being last year in Colorado with the jersey, it’s not easy to handle that stress of having the jersey. So if I can learn to handle that stress and deliver a GC win in the end, that would be a big step.

VN.com: So you’re still working to become comfortable with the idea of trying to win a big race?

TVG: I would like to get myself in that situation a few more times so I can get more comfortable with it. Being on a team like this, and learning from guys like Cadel. I always envisioned Cadel as being a pretty high-strung guy, but after meeting him, he’s the most relaxed guy here. If I can learn from that and learn to lower my blood pressure at races, I think that would help a lot.

VN.com: What did you take out of last season as lessons that you can take forward?

TVG: I learned to respect the opponents. To get podium results as a first-year pro, that doesn’t mean that I am going to go up against multi-podium, grand-tour caliber riders and just kick their asses. I have to realize, good things are going to happen, but not to be too disappointed when those don’t always pan out the way that you expect. Sometimes I am going to have a really good race and sometimes I will be beaten by a better guy. Sometimes you have to be OK with that.

VN.com: A busy season through the Tour, anything after that? The Vuelta, worlds, Canada?

TVG: I want to do the worlds. I am pretty excited about the TTT (the professional team time trial event a week ahead of the road worlds), that should be interesting.

VN.com: Coming to BMC is a big step, now you’re arguably on one of the best teams in the peloton, what does that mean to you?

TVG: Every team could argue they are the best team in the world, but the thing about this team, is that we don’t go for the number of wins. At HTC, we always worried about our tally. Now we have 12 wins, now we have 30 wins. We don’t care about the number of wins, we care about the quality. We’re going to go for the Tour, Roubaix, Liege, whereas on HTC, we weren’t going for any of those, we were going for stages at Tour of Qatar. We had a bunch of Tour wins with Cav and Tony (Martin) won Paris-Nice. Here it’s all about quality over quantity.

VN.com: And the spring classics?

TVG: I have Fleche and Liege on my calendar. I’ve done both of those before but I am not sure I will be there this year. To win Liege, I don’t know if I am that kind of rider. I had a good day in Liege last year. If I develop a few more years to get used to that distance, I could be up there. I am not going to be a Philippe Gilbert. That’s a whole different level. It’s pointless to go there and think I am going to get seventh place. If I go there, I am there to help Philippe.