Editor’s Note: This article is based on a recent conversation with Tejay Van Garderen. It was conducted before Van Garderen suffered a crash with an automobile while training in Lucca, Italy on Thursday. The American, who was descending a narrow road, averted a head-on collision with the car, which was driving up the hill, but his training bike was destroyed in the crash. Van Garderen was taken to a local hospital but suffered only minor scrapes and bruises in the encounter.
Taylor Phinney has grabbed headlines with his recent success at U23 development road races in Europe, specifically his prologue win at La Fleche de Sud and his victory at the U23 Paris-Roubaix. But Phinney isn’t the only young American currently tearing up the roads in Europe. Tejay Van Garderen, 21, is another talented Yank who has stepped onto the podium at a number of major European events.
Van Garderen is perhaps America’s best up-and-coming stage racer, and he hails from Fort Collins, Colorado, however he spent much of his early life in Montana. Like most of the nation’s other up-and-coming talents, Van Garderen is a product of the national U23 development team, based in Izegem, Belgium.
Last year, Van Garderen inked a contract to ride with Rabobank’s continental pro team. The move was a stark contrast that of Van Garderen’s peers, many of whom opted to sign with American squads. Still, top results began pouring in. He won a stage of the 2008 La Fleche de Sud, took the points and Best Young Rider titles there and finished second in the overall. He won stages at the GP Tell and the Tour de L’Avenir, where he ended up eighth overall.
This year Van Garderen has continued his upward trajectory, winning France’s Haut Anjou stage race. He then won the final stage of Holland’s five-stage Olympias Tour, and finished second overall.
These results speak volumes of Van Garderen’s future potential as a ProTour rider. But Van Garderen’s top finishes have come in races that, admittedly, are far from the radar screen of the average American cycling fan. And since he rides for a Dutch team, Van Garderen doesn’t grab the same headlines back home as his compatriots.
VeloNews caught up with Van Garderen to find out what it’s like to be the other young American in Europe.
VeloNews: You are arguably as talented and accomplished as any U23 American racing in Europe right now, yet you usually fly under the radar screen back home. Is it frustrating for you?
Tejay Van Garderen: Yes and no. It can be frustrating. I know that guys who also race in the U.S. can establish a good relationship with the American media and get more publicity. I mean take the guys on Garmin. They are a Boulder team, and (VeloNews) is in Boulder so it makes sense that you guys are going to know what’s going on with them. It’s a lot easier to follow riders than just race results.
VN: Taylor Phinney, especially, has gotten lots of press because of his results in Europe.
TVG: I’m a good friend of Taylor’s and I get super stoked when he gets a good result. He has the following because of his world championship on the track and his (family name) and that means a lot of people are going to follow him. And when he gets a good result at a race like Fleche de Sud, then that means maybe more (Americans) will remember those races and see that other Americans are doing well there. I mean last year I won a stage there and finished second overall.
In my opinion what (Phinney)’s done as a first-year (rider) on the road over here has been more impressive than what he’s done on the track. I thought he neglected road racing and might suffer more over here because he’s been racing so much track, but that hasn’t been the case. He’s gotten top-10 at Tryptique and a stage at Fleche de Sud and now he’s won U23 Paris-Roubaix, all in his first year. I don’t know if people realize how hard that is.
VN: A lot of up-and-coming American riders your age have aligned themselves with American teams, yet you chose to go with a Dutch squad. Why?
TVG: Rabobank was looking for an American because they had opened up a few banks in California, and they decided that, instead of just taking someone from Discovery, why not put someone on the Continental team roster and bring them up through the ranks, rather than just buying someone who is already good.
It was a scary decision to make, for sure. But this is a way for me to get full immersion into Europe. A lot of guys come over with the national team or other development teams get some exposure to European racing, but it’s a month or two, and then it’s done. It’s like a field trip, and then you do some races and get to go back home where people speak your language and you can eat Chipotle and see your friends. In the ProTour that’s not what it’s like.
Right now I’m over here for five months at a time, and eight months out of the year. I live with family in Holland, and I’ve become fluent in Dutch. I’ve been able to do bigger races, (UCI rated) 1.1 and 2.1 races on the road, and you can’t do those with the national team. It’s made me a much better rider. I figure the earlier I can get the lifestyle in Europe down then the sooner I’ll find out if (racing in the ProTour) is something I’m capable of doing. I think it’s paid off.
VN: But the trade off is less exposure back home.
TVG: It’s true. Last year I didn’t do a single American race, and this year I have yet to do a race in the U.S. I’m set to do U23 nationals, and hopefully I can get a result and some exposure there. I mean, yeah it’s difficult to go to Redlands and get a top-10 there, and I get a second place at the Circuito Montañes, and those results are probably equally as hard to get. But nobody hears about (Circuito Montañes) in America. But my goal right now isn’t to be getting a ton of attention in the media. My goal is to become the best bike racer I can be, and hopefully down the road that will pay off. I think it was the same story with Saul Raisin. He did the national team and then signed with Credit Agricole’s development team and then got on the pro roster and people still didn’t know who he was until he was top-10 at the Tour of Germany.
VN: Do you have much of a following back in Holland?
TVG: Actually yeah, I’ve been written about in the local newspapers. They call me the “American Alphener” because the town I live in is Alphen on der Rhine. I think I am getting a bigger Dutch fan base than an American fan base. But I don’t blame the media. The thing is I’m getting results in races that most people have never heard of, and I had never heard of them before I raced them.
VN: What does the rest of your season look like?
TVG: I’ll do the Circuito Montañes on the 10th of June. I was second there last year, and Rabobank has won it in the past with Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema. To win that would be good for me. Then I’ll do U23 nationals, maybe Cascade, maybe not, then fly back to Europe and do a few 2.1 races, Tour l’Ain, Tour of Ireland and then the Tour l’Avenir and the world championships. That’s an important race, every time you do a pro race it’s important to show yourself to the pro teams.