LILLE, France (VN) — Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) rolls into Wednesday’s decisive cobblestone stage on the cusp of a major hurdle.
The 25-year-old has been growing by the day through this Tour de France, and if he survives the brutal pavé with his GC options intact, the team will be quietly confident for what lies ahead.
For van Garderen, who is leading the Tour squad outright for the first time, and for BMC Racing, which relegated 2011 Tour champion Cadel Evans to the Giro d’Italia, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
But ask van Garderen how things are going, and he’s as cool as a cucumber.
“We want to stay focused, but stay relaxed,” van Garderen told VeloNews. “It’s not always about me. The guys, they’ll be working for me, but they’ll also have their chances. Look at Greg [Van Avermaet, fourth at two seconds back], he could take the jersey Wednesday with a good ride.”
Van Garderen, who starts Wednesday 12th overall, two seconds behind leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), is not letting his leadership go to his head. Despite his relatively fresh age of 25, van Garderen is already starting his fourth Tour.
The fact that he’s leading a team as big and powerful as BMC not only says a lot about both his future and his present, but also how this Tour represents the next step in his natural evolution as a rider.
After scoring consistent top results in his early years as a pro, he broke out in 2013, winning both the Amgen Tour of California and the U.S.A. Pro Challenge.
It’s about tomorrow, but it’s also very much about the here and now.
“Tejay has got the team for himself. Everyone is here for him. He is easing into that leader role,” BMC sport director Max Sciandri told VeloNews. “We are pretty confident he is going to have a great Tour. He came in quietly, but the Tour is long, and there is a lot to show. We are hoping in the last week and 10 days, he is going to be very good.”
First, van Garderen needs to get through the first half of the Tour. So far, things have gone pretty close to plan. Despite a minor crash caused by fans taking “selfies” in Sunday’s wild stage across the deceptively steep hills of England, van Garderen has been pretty much off the radar. And that’s just where he wants to be.
“That’s always the first week’s goal for the Tour, to stay upright and out of trouble,” van Garderen said. “The team is working well together, and there is good team spirit. We want to keep it rolling.”
All the attention has been on the major players, including Chris Froome’s crash in Tuesday’s stage, but van Garderen knows if he can get through the coming stages, in particular Wednesday’s potentially disastrous stage over the cobbles, he stands a good chance of coming close to his fifth place of 2012.
“We have good protectors for Tejay for the pavé,” Sciandri continued. “We are missing Taylor (Phinney), but he will be back to the Tour. We have guys like Marcus Burghardt, Michael Schar, Van Avermaet, and Daniel Oss, they’re very experienced on the cobbles, and they can protect Tejay.”
As Sciandri suggested, van Garderen is “easing” into the leadership role.
Evans was the big leader at BMC, joining the team in 2010 while wearing the rainbow jersey, and giving the U.S.-registered, then-second-tier team instant credibility.
Last fall, team manager Allan Peiper made the difficult but inevitable decision to place the team’s trust in the hands of van Garderen. Evans rode the Giro.
The Tour, now and for the foreseeable future, is all for van Garderen.
When asked about how van Garderen is handling the new responsibilities, Sciandri said he is slowly finding the right tone.
“He doesn’t speak much, but when he speaks, you need to listen to him, because he’s a very wise talker,” Sciandri said. “He won’t shout away the whole day. He’s very down to earth, very quiet guy.”
Van Garderen’s perception of his own leadership style was plain to see when talking to ex-pro Frankie Andreu for a Bicycling.com video. Andreu inquired about van Garderen’s distinctive shoes, asking how the showy design reflects his persona.
Van Garderen replied, “the peaceful warrior.”
That says it all. If he can get through a few more treacherous stages, we may truly see the warrior in van Garderen at this year’s Tour.