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BMC’s Ochowicz bullish on Porte, van Garderen tandem

BMC Racing is betting that two GC riders sharing leadership at the Tour de France could equal one yellow jersey.

The arrival of Richie Porte gives the U.S.-registered squad a second podium option for the Tour, but team manager Jim Ochowicz isn’t just looking to Porte and Tejay van Garderen for a podium. He has his eyes on an outright victory.

Some think that’s a stretch, especially since neither has yet to attain a top-three placing in the Tour, let alone win a grand tour, but Ochowicz remains bullish.

“I believe either one of them can win the Tour,” Ochowicz told VeloNews during the team camp earlier this month. “We’re counting on the fact that our guys are going to be good, and we’ll be ready to support them.”

Ochowicz raised eyebrows earlier this month when he said BMC Racing is aiming for the yellow jersey at next year’s Tour de France. He said the arrival of Porte from Team Sky will give BMC Racing the ability to attack its rivals with two GC options. And he said the team’s experience of winning the Tour in 2011 with Cadel Evans will help bolster their chances come July.

“We’ve won the Tour before, so in terms of managing the process and understanding what it takes, and the dynamics of the event are tremendous, so we’re not under-estimating that at all,” Ochowicz said. “We’ve been there, done that. As much experience as we have in our organization, we can deal with the challenge. In the end, it’s up to the athlete.”

Porte and van Garderen are among the most promising GC riders in the bunch, but neither has been able to deliver the goods in a major grand tour. Van Garderen has twice been fifth, and looked to be on track for the podium until he pulled out of the 2015 Tour with illness in the Alps. Porte proved to be one of Chris Froome’s most reliable helpers since 2012, but also faltered when he was designated Sky’s leader at the Giro d’Italia in May.

Both, however, have proven they have the motors to battle with the best. Porte enjoyed a spectacular spring, winning Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya, and the Giro del Trentino in succession, while van Garderen was runner-up to Froome by just 10 seconds at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, results that bolster confidence among the BMC ranks going into 2016.

Ochowicz said each will have distinct racing programs early in the 2016 season before linking up ahead of the Tour. Come next July, the road will quickly reveal who has the legs to try to win the yellow jersey.

“They both understand the situation. In the end, it won’t be as big of a challenge as people might think,” he said. “The race takes its form, and you have to be really good to win the Tour. [The race] will help put things in place, and plus we have the two time trials. Everyone is one their own in those. At this Tour, we’re not fighting through Belgium, with the wind and the hills and the rain. We’re almost going directly into the mountains, and staying there until Paris.”

Porte, who had been close to joining BMC Racing on previous occasions, made the leap with the chance to lead the squad during the Tour de France, something he knew he would never have at Team Sky behind Froome.

For BMC, Porte serves as an insurance policy, giving the team more GC options not only at the Tour, but also across the entire calendar.

“You need more than one GC rider to be competitive in the WorldTour,” Ochowicz said. “We want to break them up sometimes, one guy here, one guy there, and we have the roster to put seven guys behind each of them to go for the win. We want to be competitive in all the races we go to.

“And there’s also a back-up issue,” he continued. “If someone gets sick or injured, we’re not out of the Tour. We can still go with one if something happens. Either one of them could lead the team.”

Porte will make his season debut at the Santos Tour Down Under in January while van Garderen is expected to race at the Ruta del Sol in Spain in mid-February.