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Tejay van Garderen says sport is still strong, fans can still believe

ESCONDIDO, California (VN) — The question hung in the room, a cirrus of smoke across the lofty ceiling.

Tejay van Garderen leaned forward. It wasn’t the first time he’d been asked about performance-enhancing drugs as a fresh new face in a sport corrupted by the need to cheat human physiology. It wouldn’t be the last.

That’s no matter. He delivered a plea for fans to believe in him, and in those around him, saying they are pedaling toward a cleaner future.

“I’d like to hope that the fans can move past what’s happened in that era of cycling; I think it’s a long time ago now. I think the sport of cycling has taken its hits, but hopefully they don’t lose faith in us now,” he said.

This year, the sport began looking to shed its EPO-tainted skin, which had been dragged into the light for the sporting public to critique as Lance Armstrong, who for so long doggedly denied doping, confessed on national television after a scathing report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The confession left a younger generation of riders paying fines for the sins of pelotons past.

“Why should his generation be punished for things people my age have done before? I hope that we finally hit the bottom and we get all the skeletons out of the closet,” said Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan).

“It was a long fight, or struggle. We did mistakes as cycling maybe to not tackle this problem early and hard enough … hopefully, we’re over this now.”

The Amgen Tour of California will mark the first major race in the United States since the Armstrong confession and the subsequent cascade of information. Van Garderen, who enters as a favorite, expects a strong turnout, regardless.

“I think you’re going to see on Mt. Diablo, when you have a million people on the climb … you’re going to realize the sport of cycling is still strong,” he said. “People still love it. They’re still going to be out there running half naked next to us.”