MAASTRICHT (VN) — After a season of surpassing expectations, Tejay van Garderen lines up Sunday as an outsider for the rainbow jersey in the elite men’s road race.
Following fifth overall at the Tour de France and second overall and a stage win at the USA Pro Challenge, van Garderen could have just gone home and cooled his jets. Instead, he traveled back to Europe to help BMC Racing to second in the worlds team time trial Sunday and just missed the podium in the men’s time trial Wednesday.
The 24-year-old is hoping for one more big ride Sunday before sticking a fork in his highly successful 2012 campaign.
The hilly Limburg parcours favors van Garderen’s racing style and he will be among the leaders on a deep U.S. men’s team that starts with underdog status, but perhaps with its best chance for a worlds podium in years.
Van Garderen knows these hilly Dutch roads well, having raced two seasons on the Rabobank Continental team and raced in the Ardennes classics each season since turning pro three years ago.
How far van Garderen and the Americans can go Sunday will depend a lot on what happens on the Cauberg finish climb above Valkenburg. Following his strong performance Wednesday in the time trial, which featured the same finish, van Garderen is cautiously optimistic.
VeloNews sat down with van Garderen on Thursday at the USA Cycling team hotel in Maastricht to talk worlds.
VeloNews: For the road worlds, how is the men’s team shaping up for leadership?
Tejay van Garderen: Horner, Talansky, Howes: they’ve all shown strong performances in one-day events. We’ll have a couple of protected riders, but for the main part, I am going to ask the team for their help. If I am feeling good on the day, I think I can get a good result.
VN: After Wednesday’s time trial, do you look back with satisfaction, despite coming five seconds short of the podium?
TvG: I’m definitely very happy. What I said before the race, I just wanted to go out there and have a good ride. When I looked at my power numbers, I knew that’s where I should be. I didn’t want to get to the finish line and know I had a bad day. I just wanted to go out there and have it be a time trial I would be happy with. I had good sensations all day. My power was equal to some of the best time trials that I’ve ever done. There’s obviously room for improvement. Now that I know I can do a one-day time trial, because it’s completely different than doing a time trial in a stage race, I am motivated on fixing those mistakes and getting better.
VN: You’re here after a long season. Are you committed to the worlds each season or does it depend on the course?
TvG: A lot guys skip the worlds because it’s late in the season. They’re unmotivated and I understand that. It’s a long way to travel to a place where it’s a crapshoot. You never really know how it’s going to pan out. Whereas, if you’re a GC rider and you go to a GC race, you will almost be assured of a good result. Here it’s kind of a gamble. Having said that, it’s the world championships. If you play the lottery, you never know what can happen. These are such unpredictable races. On any given day, you can have an incredible day and end up world champion. I don’t think anyone would have predicted (Taylor) Phinney would have been that close to Tony (Martin). You change one or two things, and he could have been world champion. And that changes his whole career. So if you play that lottery every year, maybe you come out on top.
VN: For you, the worlds will be part of each season?
TvG: I think so. It’s such a prestigious thing. If you come out on top one year, it changes everything. Cavendish is maybe going to lose his jersey in a couple of days, but he got to spend the whole year in that jersey. It’s something that stays with you. The title of world champion never leaves. He gets those bands on his arm for the rest of his career and that’s a pretty special thing.
VN: It seems like the younger riders are more committed to the worlds. Is there more of an allegiance to USA Cycling because many of you came through the U23 house (in Izegem, Belgium)?
TvG: It’s always cool to come back to be with the people you’ve worked with and who’ve supported you. I don’t know if it’s an allegiance thing; it’s more about friendship. It’s fun to race on the trade team. It’s also fun to come back and race with people who speak your language and people who grew up in your program.
VN: What are the expectations for Sunday’s race?
TvG: I think it will be very different than what we saw in the Olympics, when there were such small teams. Here, with the bigger teams, you can have eight strong guys chasing it back. I think groups will get away, with countries working together to shut it down. I think it’s going to come down to the last time up the Cauberg.
VN: The finish is quite different from Amstel Gold, about 1.5km after the Cauberg. How do you see that changing the dynamics of the finale?
TvG: A K-and-a-half, that’s not a whole lot of time to shut down a move if someone gets away. I really doubt a team will be so organized on the ninth lap up the Cauberg to shut a move down. I don’t see that playing out. Maybe the Spanish will have a strong enough team, but will they want to work together when they have five leaders on the team on the Cauberg? It’s a long way to go from the top. If it’s unorganized, there’s no coming back. If it’s coming up ones and twos, and your teammate is 50 riders back, there’s no time to wait for your teammate to come up when the finish line is only a K-and-a-half away. It adds a different dynamic to it. It’s going to end up being less reliant on team tactics and more reliant on individual tactics. It will be a great race.
VN: What’s it like for you to be at the worlds, maybe you can win, do you sometimes pinch yourself, or do you feel it’s part of your natural evolution to already be at this level?
TvG: I feel pretty comfortable here. I certainly do not take it for granted in how I make my living. It’s pretty cool when you sit back and you realize you can do something you enjoy. This is my third year professional, also two years before that I was Continental at Rabobank, living this lifestyle. You get used to it. Now it’s less of pinching yourself; it’s becoming more, “let’s see what we can do to get the best result out of it.”
VN: You’re developing into a grand tour rider. Is one-day classics also a style of racing you like?
TvG: If it’s a hard one-day race, I can usually do pretty well. I like leaving it all out there. In one day, you don’t need to be as calculating and conservative as when you’re racing on time. You can race more aggressively. The win on the day is the only thing that matters. It’s fun. I like it.
VN: Tour riders also ride the Ardennes classics. Are those races you can someday challenge for?
TvG: Maybe. I’d like to. (Liége-Bastogne-Liége) and Amstel have a lot of history to them and a lot of prestige. I raced a lot in this area as a U23 and I know on these short, punchy climbs, I can do pretty well. I have yet to win a big one-day race, either in the under-23 or the pros. Maybe Sunday. It’s a lottery.