After Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) earned his first major stage race win at the Amgen Tour of California last month, it was probably more difficult to recover from the media attention — multiple magazine requests for cover shots, for example — and life as a new father than it was to recover from the eight-stage tour.
But such is the weight of expectation and attention for the 24-year-old van Garderen now.
Last year, he captivated American fans by riding to fifth place in the Tour de France, earning the best young rider’s jersey in the process. By winning the Tour of California this year, he finally confirmed what everyone already knew: he was an all-around contender, looking to find the stop step, rather than continue his flurry of top-fives at major races like Paris-Nice, where he finished fourth this year and fifth last season.
Now, van Garderen is looking to hone his July form with a win at the Tour de Suisse.
“I would say right now I am at 95 percent. I’ll use this month to get that extra five percent going into the Tour de France. I definitely have more confidence having won a race. But we still have a month before we get there,” van Garderen said. “I’m definitely feeling stronger. I also feel like I have stepped it up in every race I have done this year compared to last year.”
He’s all in for the Tour: he skipped the U.S. national races — where he likely would have won the time trial — in order to work with his BMC teammates on the team time trial, which could factor hugely at the Tour de France.
“I’ve recovered well from California. The race itself was not that hard to recover from. It was more the celebration and the media attention that I got from winning,” van Garderen said. “There was also the jet lag of coming back to Europe [for the team time trial camp] and that was a bit more difficult to recover from. But right now, I’m feeling pretty good.
BMC president Jim Ochowicz said the aim for van Garderen was to sharpen his pre-Tour form, and, simply, to win the nine-stage race, which starts Saturday in Quinto with a short prologue. It’s a favorable route for van Garderen, when paired with the time trial at the end of the race and hard mountain stages, but it’s not back-breaking.
“He’s using Switzerland as his final prep for the Tour, but also going there to win the race,” Ochowicz said.
Suisse features two big mountain stages, one of which has a Category 1 uphill finish at the ski station of Crans-Montana, all after scaling paved pass in Switzerland and Nufenen Pass, a hors catégorie ascent.
There are four lumpy stages where large time shouldn’t be lost by the general classification contenders if things play out normally. There’s also a harsh individual time trial on the race’s final day, with the final 10 kilometers uphill. All told, van Garderen will line up as a five-star favorite in Switzerland.
“There is a 9-kilometer prologue and the race also finishes with a time trial, so that will suit me well. The time trial is somewhat similar to the Amgen Tour of California in that it finishes on a pretty good climb,” van Garderen said. “Plus, there are some tough mountain stages. So overall, it should suit me pretty well.”
Should van Garderen ride well in Switzerland, as is expected at this point, he will give BMC a two-arrow approach in France this July; Cadel Evans is the team leader, with van Garderen his second in command.
On Monday, Ochowicz said the plan is still that BMC will line up behind Evans, the 2011 Tour champ, first and foremost at the Tour’s grand depart in Corsica on June 29.
“Cadel’s fine,” he said. “He came out of the Giro healthy despite the severe weather conditions … he’s fine. He’s good … Cadel’s the leader of the team.” Evans finished third at the Giro d’Italia.
Van Garderen has said BMC will need all the options it can muster at the Tour, in an attempt to solve the puzzle of Sky, which is something the squad was unable to do last year. Sky, though, will now line up without defending champion Bradley Wiggins because of a knee injury.
“I feel bad for Wiggins. He’s a nice guy from what I know of him. It’s always sad when somebody goes out with an injury, especially when the defending champion can’t make it to the start of the Tour,” van Garderen said. “As far as my preparation, it doesn’t change much. You still have 10 other guys out there with the possibility of winning it. So subtracting one doesn’t really affect me a whole lot.”