SANTA ROSA, Calif. (VN) — What BMC Racing lacked in spring classic currency, it’s making up for with an embarrassment of stage-race riches riches in May.
Tejay van Garderen won the Amgen Tour of California on Sunday, his first major victory as a professional. 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans is second at the Giro d’Italia with six days of racing left — a huge increase in his form from just a month ago.
But who will lead the squad at the Tour de France, a mountainous 100th edition, is unknown. Van Garderen, for his part, is flying this spring, and his confidence will swell with the California win.
“I felt like I got the monkey off my back, and hopefully this can snowball into more victories,” he told VeloNews. “It’s a big relief to finally get my first stage race victory. I’ve been close on a number of occasions. I was actually starting to get worried that I just didn’t have what it took to win a stage race.”
And now, he’s looking down the road at the biggest race the sport has: the Tour de France.
Van Garderen said he wouldn’t “rule out” the possibility of standing on the podium in Paris, even though the race will be tougher than last year, and the competition in the mountains even stiffer, with Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), and others attacking.
“I mean — the Tour is always in your mind when you’re out training. I know you have little goals throughout the year, little focuses, little peaks. But the Tour is what everyone gets out there and rides for, either to make the selection or to be in the best shape for the Tour,” he told VeloNews on the eve of the California start. “It’s the Tour de France.”
Van Garderen placed fifth last year while riding in support of Evans, who finished seventh after a bad two days in the Pyrenees. It appeared that the torch may have been passed on the Champs-Élysées in Paris to van Garderen in his bright white jersey denoting his Best Young Rider status, his younger legs more spritely than those of Evans.
Van Garderen continued his march toward being the team leader on Sunday in Santa Rosa. Asked if he was on his peak level now or holding something back for the Tour, he was assertive.
“Oh I’ve got more in the tank, for sure. I’m usually a very consistent rider. I can hold form well throughout the year. I can get a couple percent better, a couple percent worse. But for the Tour, I’m going to be at 100 percent,” he said.
Van Garderen will skip the U.S. national championships in favor of a team training camp, at which BMC will focus on the team time trial, among other things.
“I would have really loved to do [nationals], but the team’s fully committed to the Tour,” van Garderen said.
But is the team fully committed to him?
“He’s obviously in good form. And as he said, he’s had a good season. All four stage races he’s done, he’s placed first, second, third, fourth. Good results, good conditioning. But I keep saying it’s not about two months, six months, it’s a long career he’s looking forward to,” said Jim Ochowicz, BMC’s president and general manager. “Each year, the Tour course changes as well … it’s like any other race. We can’t predict what we don’t know. Obviously, he has the talent, and that will happen. Whether it’s this year, next year …”
Van Garderen, for his part, says he’s happy Evans is on good form, because it will take the two of them to crack Sky, which will be even more determined after a Giro that hasn’t gone to plan, and a strange GC leadership issue for the Tour. At the moment, Sky says Froome will lead the team over 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins — who withdrew from the Giro last week.
“It’s amazing that Cadel’s getting back in his old form and is riding strong at the Giro,” van Garderen told VeloNews. “I think now with a victory at Amgen, and a possible podium at the Giro, that puts BMC right back on track. As far as tactics go for the Tour, I think it’s incredible that we’re going to have two guys who are strong and capable of being up there, because it’s going to take two guys to knock Sky off of their top step.”
Ochowicz said the expectation wasn’t for Evans to ride as well as he has.
“No. I don’t think so. Because that wasn’t the idea going into it, that he was going to be in second place right now. I think he prepared well for it. But we’re still really thinking about the Tour,” Ochowicz said. “The plan for him coming to the Giro was the Tour de France. So that’s still the plan. That’s still the idea. He’s still our leader. He’s proving it in the Giro every day. And he’ll continue to do that I’m sure through the rest of the week.”
Ochowicz continued: “We’ve got to weigh all the options, think about all the ideas and terms of strategic racing. We’re not even sure yet who the real competition’s going to be, with Wiggins falling out now from the Giro. Froome, obviously, not really happy with some of the situations at the moment. So, there’s a lot to think about before we get to the point where we’re going to name either Tejay or Cadel as team leader. Cadel has obviously earned the right to be the team leader. We’ll stick with that at the moment.”
Van Garderen will head to Europe after some time with his family and then tune up at the Tour de Suisse.
“It’s always good to have two cards to play,” van Garderen said. “Sometimes banking everything on one guy, that’s a big gamble … that also helps tactics in the mountains. If Cadel’s the leader but I’m close on time, I do an attack, Cadel can have a free ride to sit on. And we can kind of work it that way. He gets a free ride, they chase me down and then Cadel attacks.
“So it’s not a matter of who’s the leader, me or Cadel. Cadel and I are going to have to work together to figure out how to beat sky. That’s the way I see it.”