CARCASSONE, France (VN) — He’s been here before. It’s not new. It’s not easy, but it’s not new. Tejay van Garderen is composed in this 2014 Tour de France — if anything it seems an extension of the 2012 running, in which he finished fifth. He’s fifth now, heading into the Pyrénées and the looming final time trial.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is considerably up on everyone (by more than four minutes) but van Garderen and a passel of others are contesting every remaining kilometer. Just two minutes separate second (Alejandro Valverde) and the sixth of Jean-Cristophe Péraud (A2GR La Mondiale). Van Garderen sat down with reporters on the rest day; a year after a trying Tour (he finished 45th last year) he is poised for what he called the biggest week of his racing career.
Question: Are you enjoying the battle with the French guys? Valverde? Is it fun?
Tejay van Garderen: It definitely makes for interesting racing. If everyone was separated by two minutes then it wouldn’t be that much to watch anymore. Since [Nibali] already has a sold lead he looks almost untouchable … More battles going on make it exciting.
Q: All the quarreling behind Nibali, the marking of each other, could it come back to haunt you?
TVG: I mean, five minutes is a lot to make up. I don’t think we’ve been racing each other rather than racing him, necessarily. It’s just when he attacks, no one has the legs to follow. And then when we start to chase it kind of becomes tactical. Because some people want to pull and try to get it back. And other people are getting a free ride. So then it’s like we have to attack each other in order to whittle down the group so we’re not carrying any freeloaders. So it might look tactical, like we’re racing each other back there but really we’re just trying to unload any dead weight that we might not want to pull back up to Nibali to try to catch him.
Q: What would be a good result for you in the time trial?
TVG: I don’t know. I really, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (A2GR La Mondiale), they’re very young. I haven’t seen them too many times in time trials. I don’t think they’re real specialists. I think they could go OK. Valverde and Jean-Christophe Péraud I know are really good time trialers. So I don’t know. You can never be satisfied with anything. It’s the Tour de France. You know? You never know how your legs are going to be after three weeks. I just have to get to it and ride as hard as I can.
Q: Can you go into the TT where you are now, or do you think you need to move up?
TVG: I’m just looking for consistency. Some of these climbers, they’re very explosive, and that’s less my style. If I can stay consistent maybe some of the other guys will weaken a little bit. But no, I’m not looking — obviously if one of my rivals has a bad day I might push the pace a little bit.
Q: You said earlier this season you were out to prove that fifth place in 2012 wasn’t a fluke. Do you feel like you’ve done that?
TVG: I mean that’s something that I’ve known all along. I think it’s something other people may have doubted. So it’s nice to silence some of the doubters. But no. I’m not going to be satisfied until we get to Paris and I’m in a good position.
Q: What about the long-term?
TVG: My goal is obviously to one year win this race. Yeah, that might be a bit lofty of an expectation for this year. But years down the road, I think it’s something I can do.
VN: Is this the most important week of your career?
TVG: Yes. Yes it is.
Q: Was it easy to assume the leadership role? It’s your first true leadership at a grand tour. What’s that like?
TVG: This is my first grand tour that I’ve done where I’ve been the outright leader. And the guys have been incredible. It’s a huge experience and I’m certainly enjoying it … I’ve kind of grown into it I think. I’ve led the team in many other races. But to do it in a grand tour is something different. It’s three weeks long. But I feel like the other races have given me enough practice.
Q: It wasn’t an ideal run-in for you. Were you confident heading into the Tour regardless of the misfortunes earlier this year?
TVG: What happens in the early season usually doesn’t have that big of an effect on how you come into July. It’s kind of broken up into two seasons. I showed I had really good form earlier this season … I showed that I did the work over the winter to have that base
Q: You’ve been there, the young guy with pressure in the Tour. How will the young French riders handle the pressure?
TVG: It all depends on where, or whether or not, you let that stuff get to you. They seem like solid guys, solid characters. I don’t think they’re going to have trouble with it. And if, at the end of the day, there is pressure and they disappoint, that shouldn’t be right. They shouldn’t be disappointed because they’re both having an incredible Tour.