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Tejay says he’s fit enough to win

LIDO DI CAMAIORE, Italy (VN) — Tejay van Garderen says that he is in shape to score his first European stage race win in Tirreno-Adriatico, which starts Wednesday on Tuscany’s coast.

BMC’s American leader began his season in Spain, where he won the Vuelta a Andalucía time trial stage and placed second overall in the to Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde.

“Fitness wise, I feel good,” van Garderen said in a pre-race press conference. “With my fitness and everyone else’s, if we were lining up for the USA Pro Challenge, I don’t think these guys would beat me. But like I said, the home court advantage means a lot. Vincenzo Nibali is the favorite, but I’m going to challenge him.”

Tirreno-Adriatico begins with a 22.7-kilometer team time trial along the coast in an unusually cold Lido di Camaiore. The race includes a summit finish to Monte San Vicino on Sunday and a final 10.05-kilometer individual time trial.

Besides van Garderen, top favorites include Astana’s Nibali, Wout Poels (Sky), and Valverde.

“The time trial tomorrow is flat, you can gain maybe 10 seconds on some rivals. Every day could become a GC day, you have to be attentive. We have a strong team of classics guys who can break the wind out in front and keep us out of trouble,” van Garderen added. “I haven’t ridden the climb [to Monte San Vicino], but we’ve definitely studied it. I know where the hard sections are. We have people on the performance team map it out, they give us good feedback, and we’ve done our homework.”

Van Garderen led BMC in the Tour de France in 2015 and looked ready to place on the podium, but fell sick in the final week. In the Vuelta, he crashed in the second week and abandoned with a broken shoulder.

However, in 2015, he had some important second places. Besides the Ruta del Sol, he led the Critérium du Dauphiné stage race and finished 10 seconds behind Sky’s Chris Froome. Froome, of course, went on to win the Tour de France the following month.

“I definitely have a lot of second places, but I definitely have a lot of nice victories too,” he said. “I think my wins balance my seconds.”

In the States, he won the USA Pro Challenge twice and the Tour of California, but never an overall classification title in Europe. His pre-Tour program will provide him a chance with the Volta a Catalunya, the Tour de Romandie, the Critérium du Dauphiné and of course, Tirreno-Adriatico starting tomorrow.

“The end of last season went poorly with exiting the Tour de France early and then taking an even earlier exit from the Vuelta a España,” said van Garderen. “I feel like I started my work earlier this year, and it has definitely paid off and coming into the season really strong, and I’m feeling very good for this one with the terrain, I think we have a good shot.”