MILAN (VN) — The signs are good for Tejay van Garderen. Three weeks before the Tour de France, he is managing himself in the Critérium du Dauphiné, one of cycling’s classic stage races and one of the big pre-Tour tests.
Van Garderen did not have his hands in the air when he crossed the line today in Saint-Gervais, but he could have. Behind Chris Froome (Sky) he placed second and wrestled the race leader’s jersey – yellow like the one in the Tour – off of 2014 Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
He may be on the eve of his biggest ever stage race win, with only the Modane stage tomorrow to cover, but he is for sure heading towards the Tour de France with more age and maturity.
“Four years ago, if I had been in the jersey in this race, I might have only got two hours of sleep that night,” the 26-year-old said in a press conference.
“What is it? It is also having experienced teammates around me, guys like Sam Sánchez and Manuel Quinziato. They just keep me calm, tell me to relax, remind me to eat and drink, and that just comes with maturity and with age.”
Van Garderen won the white jersey of the Tour de France in 2012 and set himself up for a leadership role in BMC Racing after Cadel Evans reached the end of his road. Besides a hiccup in the 2013 Tour, he has been Mr. Steady.
He claimed smaller stage race overalls – the Tour of Colorado twice, and the Tour of California – and stages in some of the toughest tours around like the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Volta a Catalunya. In south-central France this week, though, it appears that we are seeing a new chapter in the book of “TVG.”
The overall win would stand out in his palmares, but already this week there have been performances that indicate van Garderen is on his way to greater things at the Tour de France, which starts July 4 in the bicycle-made Dutch city of Utrecht. He guided his red and black train to a team time trial win Tuesday, pipped Froome on the summit finish to Pra Loup on Thursday to take the race lead, and managed himself under the stress of an attack from Nibali on Friday.
The Sicilian took the jersey off of his American rival in stage 6, but his efforts failed to have a long term effect, as Nibali lost 3:47 to van Garderen in the ensuing stage 7. Van Garderen rode clear with 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome and again managed himself when Froome launched a lethal attack 1.5 kilometers from the summit of Saint-Gervais.
“Sky started making tempo on all the climbs and whittled down the group. They really rode with authority and rode aggressive,” van Garderen said.
“Froome and I were away on the final climb. I just said to him, ‘Hey look, I’ll work with you. I’m interested in the jersey, you want the stage, so let’s work together.’
“When he attacked me, he went by so fast, there was no way I could get on his wheel. I was hoping to be able to claw him back the way I did on Pra Loup, but today I couldn’t quite close that gap.”
The 17-second gap meant Froome took the stage win and moved into second place overall at 18 seconds, but there is also significance for van Garderen. He managed himself under fire from one of the top four grand tour riders in cycling and still came out on top with the yellow jersey.
“It’s been a crazy race. It has to do with the terrain. Stages like yesterday are just complicated and confusing all around with the narrow roads and the rain, the same with today, it just shows that the race is never over until it’s over,” he said. “Like tomorrow, we are in the jersey with 18 seconds, but that’s still pretty close and anything can still happen.”
In any case, such experiences bode well for the Tour de France.