The BMC Racing team won a hot competition for the contract of young American Tejay Van Garderen last month. Van Garderen told VeloNews Thursday that he looked forward to joining Cadel Evans and Taylor Phinney in a long-term assignment with the team, but was sad to see his HTC-Highroad team crumble.
Van Garderen said that the main drivers attracting him to BMC Racing were team president Jim Ochowicz’s early interest, a long-term contract and the presence of close friend – and soon-to-be-groomsman – Taylor Phinney.
Ochowicz initially recruited Van Garderen when he was testing the waters for his neo-pro contract from the Rabobank Continental team. Last June after he finished third overall in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Ochowicz flew to Lucca, Italy, to meet with Van Garderen and express his interest for 2012.
Come June 2011, the Van Garderen sweepstakes was in full swing. According to Van Garderen, Rabobank, Leopard-Trek, Garmin-Cervélo and RadioShack were among the squads interested in his services. Bob Stapleton was also trying to save the HTC-Highroad program and Van Garderen held hope for that until late in the month when he told Ochowicz during the Tour de Suisse that he would sign when the August transfer period began.
“One of the biggest things BMC was able to offer was a three-year contract. That’s huge because that’s a pretty big risk,” Van Garderen told VeloNews. “They’re investing further into the future and they never know what’s going to happen. A lot of times when guys signs a three-year contract they mess around the first two years before it’s time to buckle down in the third year. They realize I’m not that kind of rider. I’m driven by wanting to be better.”
BMC neo-pro Taylor Phinney lives a few kilometers from Van Garderen in Lucca and the pair are close friends. Van Garderen said Phinney would be a groomsman in his upcoming wedding to former U.S. time trial champion Jessica Phillips. Phinney signed a long-term contract to join the squad beginning in 2011.
The HTC team that brought Van Garderen into the pro ranks last spring has for years been a tight-knit group. Many of the riders leaving the soon-to-be-defunct team have expressed concern over whether they can be a part of a similar team environment moving forward. Van Garderen said this is the hardest part of the team disbanding.
“It’s kind of scary to go into a new environment and not know if you’re going to get the same atmosphere,” said Van Garderen. “It’s tough to leave, but I’m really excited about BMC. I’m not worried at all about fitting in or working together well with BMC.”
One rider Van Garderen should work with a lot is Tour de France champion Cadel Evans. In a press release from the team Thursday morning, Ochowicz said that Evans would assume a mentoring role with the 23-year-old American. Van Garderen said he hoped to return for his second crack at the Tour de France in July.
“Will I be working for Cadel a lot? I don’t really see that as a negative. I’ll get my chances in the one-week stage races and if I go to the Tour, working for him will further my progression as a grand tour rider more than working for a sprinter. I liked working for Cavendish, but it will be more beneficial to me as a grand tour rider,” said Van Garderen. “I definitely think there are enough races on the calendar that I’ll get my own chances in races like California and Paris-Nice.
“It seems like Cadel really needs some solid support in the mountains and I think if I can offer that to him, that would be huge to show what I can do in the Tour in the mountains, both for the Cadel and the team, and for me.”
While the team has not disclosed the financial terms of Van Garderen’s contract, he is now rumored to be amongst the highest paid young professionals in the sport. With long-term security, a maillot jaune mentor and arguably the strongest team in the professional peloton in 2012, Van Garderen should have all the support he needs to move from best young rider to overall contender in the next three years.