SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (VN) — Maybe it’s a sign of how high expectations have become for Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) that finishing fourth at Paris-Nice is viewed by some as a disappointment.
After three impressive seasons in the pro ranks, capped by his fifth place overall in last year’s Tour de France, van Garderen is entering 2013 as a front-line favorite in any race his starts.
At last week’s Paris-Nice, the 24-year-old nudged close to victory, finishing just 23 seconds short of the podium at 1:44 behind winner Richie Porte (Sky).
After a string of top-5 finishes, BMC Racing sport director John Lelangue says it’s only a question of time before van Garderen punches through to stage race success.
“It’s coming. We are not worried,” Lelangue told VeloNews. “We are confident a victory is not too far away.”
Van Garderen makes it no secret that he wants to win an overall title. With his consistent strength in climbing and time trialing, he is considered America’s next major grand tour rider.
BMC is bullish on van Garderen, giving him full support this season as team captain in an ambitious, top-quality calendar across Europe and America. At Paris-Nice, the entire team, including world champion Philippe Gilbert, rode to support van Garderen.
Bolstered by that team support, van Garderen’s early season ambitions are to win one of the one-week stage races in what he describes as the “meat” of his season from May to August.
“You always come to a race trying to win. I never come to a race thinking, ‘I want to race to get fourth place,’ but at the end of the day, the team rode amazing all week,” van Garderen told VeloNews after the Stage 7 finishing time trial Sunday in Nice. “This was a big goal and I’d say it was a success. I’d say the meat of my season is May through August, with California, Suisse, Tour, US Pro Challenge.”
Up next will be more chances to shine, with the Critérium International (March 23-24), Vuelta al País Vasco (April 1-6), the Amgen Tour of California (May 12-19), Tour de Suisse (June 8-16), Tour de France (June 29-July 21), and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (August 19-25).
While Critérium and Basque Country are more complicated to win, California and the Tour de Suisse are the main targets before July.
“California will be a good one. That will be a big goal of mine,” van Garderen said. “Like I said, I never go into a race wanting to finish fourth. Sometime you just have to be happy with that, which I am, but I will obviously be trying to win.”
BMC is giving van Garderen fully protected status as their GC candidate. He and teammate Cadel Evans have largely divided their racing calendars to give the team cards to play across the season. For example, as van Garderen rode to fourth in Paris-Nice, Evans raced at Tirreno-Adriatico. In fact, Critérium is the only race they will do together before the Tour.
Lelangue says the team has quiet confidence in van Garderen, but isn’t putting too much pressure on him to win.
“There is no pressure from the team. We know his potential and he knows his ability. There are 200 riders at the start and there is only one winner,” Lelangue said. “Tejay was there, just like in San Luís, so that’s a good sign for the rest of the season. Maybe he was missing a bit of explosiveness, but his most important races are still to come. We know that he is on plan for a big season.”
Van Garderen’s steady progression since turning pro in 2010 is impressive by any measure. Going into his fourth pro season, van Garderen has notched no less than 12 top-5 results in stage races across the Americas and Europe.
In his rookie season in 2010, he was second at the Tour of Turkey and third at Critérium du Dauphiné. He followed that in 2011 with second at the Volta ao Algarve and third at the USA Pro Challenge, with his first pro win in the time trial stage at Utah.
Last year, he was second at the USA Pro Challenge and fifth at both Paris-Nice and the Tour, where he also earned the white jersey for being the best young rider.
That consistency continues this year, with second at the Tour de San Luís and fourth at Paris-Nice.
With those kinds of results, BMC is betting on van Garderen, both for the here-and-now and the future.
At Paris-Nice, van Garderen enjoyed full support of the team throughout the week, something that he says gives him confidence for the coming races.
“Everything is falling into place (with the team), protecting me on the hectic, flat stages and I even had a lot of support up in the mountains,” van Garderen said. “The team is riding perfectly, so I can take a lot of confidence in that, and it’s still March.”
Lelangue says van Garderen has not even come close to maximizing his full potential and insists that the major breakthrough victory will come sooner or later.
“He is better than he was 12 months ago. He is more confident. He has the team around him. He is there. It’s not a question of luck,” Lelangue said. “With the potential he has, with his abilities in the time trial, his strong climbing, with a strong structure around him, we see that he’s improving.”
With Evans entering the twilight of his career, van Garderen is being groomed to lead the team outright in the coming seasons.
This year for the Tour, Evans will start as the team captain, with van Garderen having a free ride.
“We have one leader for the Tour. We are only thinking about Cadel. He is the reigning champion from 2011,” Lelangue said. “Cadel is a our leader and Tejay will have a free role there and we will see. We have plenty of time before the Tour to think about this.”