The winner of the white jersey in last year’s Tour de France has finished inside the top ten in the last two editions of the Californian race and will once again use the event as part of his Tour de France preparations.
However, van Garderen will not just use the event as mere training and will be hoping to compete for the overall win. He has spent the last few weeks training in Boulder, Colorado, after the birth of his first child.
“I have had to be flexible with the weather and with the new addition to our family, but I feel like I have gotten good work in and I am ready to race," he said.
Van Garderen has enjoyed a consistent start to the 2013 season with second place at the Tour de San Luis and fourth at Paris-Nice and BMC have sent a formidable team to support him in California, with world champion Philippe Gilbert set to race on American shores for the first time.
"To win, you need a strong team and I think we have the strongest on the flats with guys like Philippe, Thor Hushovd and Michael Schär and on the climbs with Mathias Frank, Amaël Moinard and Marco Pinotti," he said. "We also have Brent Bookwalter, who can fill both of those roles."
The Amgen Tour of California run from May 12 to 19, and you can follow each stage live on Cyclingnews.
BMC roster for Amgen Tour of California:
Brent Bookwalter (USA), Mathias Frank (Swi), Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Thor Hushovd (Nor), Amaël Moinard (Fra), Marco Pinotti (Ita), Michael Schär (Swi), Tejay van Garderen (USA).
His team, now called RadioShack-Leopard, this morning tweeted: “Today is a day to live with what we have and mourn what we have lost. Never forget. #ww108 #sempreconnoi”.
On its Facebook page, Team Blanco posted a photo of the sign-up board for the Giro, with “Sempre Con Noi!!” (“always with us”) written on the number 108. That was Weylandt's dossard number in the 2011 Giro, and has been retired.
“Two years ago Wouter Weylandt left us. Ciao Wouter, you'll be forever in our heart #WW108 #giro,” tweeted the Giro.
Brambilla down but not out
A large crash in the peloton 185km into stage 4 resulted in Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) seeking medical treatment at day's end.
The Italian fell onto his right wrist and arm in the crash and was taken for X-rays soon after he crossed the finish line, over 17 minutes behind stage winner Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox). The news was good however, with no fracture found, according to a team press release.
"I was riding in the peloton when suddenly somebody in front of me hit their brakes," Brambilla said. "I had to brake also, but somebody touched my bike from behind and I fell. Fortunately the speed wasn't so high. I had a few scratches and pain on my right wrist, but that's ok. It wouldn't be anything serious. Tomorrow I will be at the start."
Cobo backs Nibali over Wiggins
Juan Jose Cobo got the better of Bradley Wiggins (Sky) at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, and the Spaniard is not certain over the Briton's form at this year's Giro d'Italia.
Speaking to Reuters before stage 4, Cobo who now rides for Movistar, said he does not believe that Wiggins is in the form that won him the Tour de France last July and that Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) should be rated as the top favourite.
"If Bradley had the same level as in last year's Tour then he's probably unbeatable, but that's not at all clear yet this season," he said.
"Nibali has been very strong in all the races he's done this year and Wiggins hasn't yet had a chance to show his hand.
"Hesjedal has been very active in a lot of races, too, and yesterday (Monday) when he attacked on that last climb, he showed he's got really good form," he said.
"That was very impressive, and he's the most recent winner of the Giro. He's somebody who has to count."
“When a rider has a fever, it is dangerous to let him start, even if he might be better tomorrow. He did not eat this morning and felt very weak,” said team doctor Edwin Achterberg. “We don’t want to take any risks—health comes first.”
“I felt really good during the first few days, and especially after John Degenkolb’s win yesterday,” said Ji. “I just got sick during the night, and it is really hard to leave this beautiful race already. It was my goal to support John to a stage win and to finish this race. So I am very disappointed that I can’t reach the second part of my goal.”
BMC sports director analyses star rider’s Giro options
BMC’s Max Sciandri says that he and his team will know a lot more about Cadel Evans’ chances in the Giro d’Italia after the time trial on stage 8. The Tour de France 2011 winner was a relatively late addition to BMC’s Giro line-up, and despite the team’s relatively below-expectations team time trial, is performing well, lying 10th overall, 42 seconds down.
“His condition is good. Cadel came into the Giro a bit late but as ever, he’s really prepared properly for it even in the shorter time available,” Sciandri told Cyclingnews at the start of stage six, “and he’s done the recons he could. He’s also managed to pull back a lot of the time he lost at the team time trial in the later stages, and that’s good.”
“The individual time trial will give him a reference point. It’s the same for everybody: it tells a rider where he’s at, where he wants to go, whether it’s better or worse form than he thought.”
Sciandri describes the time trial course as “typical Giro. I’ve driven it and it’s very demanding, technical, quite hard and with some nasty climbs and descents. It’s going to test everybody a lot.”
“For sure we will get something out of it, and be able to see where we’re heading with Cadel.”
Sciandri warns, though, that the "Tirreno-Adriatico" style stage through the hilly Abruzzo region on Friday will offer also chance for a GC shakeup as well - as the stage through the regions did in Italy’s second biggest stage race this March, where Vincenzo Nibali took the lead. “It’s really hard all day, very difficult terrain. The guys who did Tirreno know what it’s like and it’s going to do some real damage.”
While Taylor Phinney (BMC) had a dream debut at the Giro d'Italia in 2012, winning the prologue time trial and holding the maglia rosa through the stage 4 team time trial, this year's Giro has been a different affair for the 22-year-old American. In the opening week of this edition of the Italian Grand Tour, Phinney has been affected by allergies plus a fever and is "taking it day-by-day" to nurse himself back into health.
Nonetheless, Phinney remains in good spirits and in this exclusive video with Cyclingnews he speaks about his love of shoes.
"Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram knows I'm quite passionate about shoes, both cycling shoes and normal shoes," said Phinney. The BMC rider provides insight into his favorite footwear, both on and off the bike, and relates how he wants to "put some style back into the peloton".
Forced to drop back for a routine bike change with a shade over 30 kilometres remaining, Wiggins's pursuit became slightly more frantic when a mass crash split the peloton up ahead and brought the Englishman and many others to a standstill.
When Wiggins got going again, he found himself over a minute down on a peloton that was being led by Katusha and later FDJ. Flanked by his Sky team, however, he was able to latch back onto the main bunch some 10 kilometres later and finished the day safely in the main peloton with all the other principal contenders.
After warming down outside the Sky team bus, Wiggins opted not to speak to the waiting reporters and left it to manager Dave Brailsford to articulate the team's reaction to a day that proved more complicated than expected.
"Somebody rode into his rear mech so he then had to change bike," Brailsford said. "Just as he was getting back on after he changed the bike, there was a big crash and he had to wait for two or three minutes, which was a long time."
As Wiggins stood frustrated behind the carnage, the front end of the peloton containing his rivals for the maglia rosa was chugging away up the road. None of the teams of the other overall contenders contributed to the pace-making at the front of the race but Brailsford paid particular tribute to the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team of stage winner Mark Cavendish for slowing affairs to allow Wiggins get back on.
"QuickStep understood the situation and absolutely bought into the ethics of fair play," Brailsford said. "They were riding but they weren't racing and they deserve a lot of credit for that. Mark's not only a great champion and the best sprinter in the world but he's got a great sense of fair play like that."
Perhaps stung by the time he lost in the slippery finale at Serra San Bruno on Tuesday, Wiggins was prominent at the head of the peloton on the finishing circuit in Margherita di Savoia, putting in a monstrous turn on the front before sinking back into the main body of the bunch inside the last three kilometres. An exercise in muscle-flexing ahead of Saturday's lengthy time trial?
"In the final, he just wanted to stay out of trouble," Brailsford said. "He's so good in a straight line on the flat, he's doing as much work there as he'd have done at the back. It's not taking any more out of him and he's totally safe."
Before the Saltara time trial, of course, comes a day laden with potential traps and pitfalls in the Abruzzo region. After the overall contenders came out of Italy's deep south more or less on level pegging, Sky and Wiggins will be aiming to maintain the status quo on Friday.
"It's hard, it's a very, very hard stage," Brailsford said. "It's one of the real typical hard stage of the Giro similar to the stage at Tirreno-Adriatico [where Sky's Chris Froome lost the overall lead – ed.], so everybody will know that it is a hard stage but also we want to make sure that no time is lost going into the time trial."
When Mark Cavendish held up the race number 108 on the winner's podium on Thursday, nobody needed reminding what it signified: the number worn by Wouter Weylandt in the 2011 Giro d'Italia, exactly two years ago when he died in a tragic downhill crash.
A former Quick Step rider himself - and who had won in the Giro three years before on the same day, too - Cavendish put it simply and movingly when asked about what Weylandt represented. "It's a very hard day for us, he's always in our thoughts," he said.
The Giro goes on, though, and that means almost by default Cavendish goes on racking up the victories: 99 now in total in his career, 9 in 2013, 38 in Grand Tour stage wins and 12 in the Giro d'Italia. "There have been two bunch sprint wins and I've won both," Cavendish said. "It couldn't be going better."
The two 2013 Giro victories could not have been more different, though: in the first, at Naples, Cavendish had to fend for himself in the final 500 metres after his teammate Geert Steegmans had a mechanical and a split second decision saw him dart across the right-hand side of the road as the lead group veered left and take a narrow, but convincing, victory. This time, Steegmans ‘dropped Cavendish off' with 200 metres to go in faultless style and the Manxman blasted away up the centre of the road in a single, straight line, towards victory.
As if Cavendish's superiority was not clear enough, he then gave his rivals even more reason to lose morale by pointing out that, "I'm not in top form yet. If I was then I'd have got over that climb yesterday [Wednesday]." - the final ascent into Matera, where Cavendish was dropped.
Although the questions about whether Alessandro Petacchi, who was reported to be in negotiations with Omega Pharma to join the team in the week before the Giro and act as a support rider, might have made a difference had he been racing still occasionally crop up, they are noticeably dwindling under the weight of evidence that Omega Pharma-QuickStep are 100 percent on top of their game in the Giro. And Cavendish insisted that he had no complaints whatsoever about how his team was performing in the 2013 Giro.
"I'm happy, the team did a brilliant job today, right from the beginning. [Jack] Bobridge and [Cameron] Wurf were two strong guys to have away, but we had [Serge] Pauwels and [Gianluca] Brambrilla working hard there early on to pull them back. Then in the last kilometres Julien Vermote, who's a young guy, got dropped but came back up again to help support. They were all riding until they couldn't do any more, they rode brilliantly."
"And that was before the lead-out began. Geert Steegmans, when he's at his best, is one of the best lead-out men ever."
Cavendish said that although there had been talk in the peloton of whether they should continue racing or ease back when Bradley Wiggins (Sky) was caught behind in the big crash with 30 kilometres to go, they opted to wait.
"I'm going to stick my neck out for all the teams, and say everybody decided to wait. Nobody went full gas. We didn't speed up, we slowed down," he said.
"If I had crashed, they might not have waited, that's what happened in 2009, I lost the maglia [of race leader] for that reason, when I crashed. But that's not what happened today. We waited."
Opts for shorter French race instead of Tour of California
Tom Boonen has swapped the Tour de Picardie for the Tour of California. Instead of making his comeback in the US, the Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider has chosen to travel to northern France instead, for a shorter and easier return to the peloton.
On Wednesday the team announced that the former world champion would take to the start of Picardie on Friday. That is a three-day race over 532 kilometers with few climbs and expected mass sprints in each stage.
“My crash at Ronde van Vlaanderen was quite serious and it took a while to recover,” said Boonen on the team's website. “I still have pain on my hip and my back, but day-by-day the situation is getting better, and I can train regularly. The fact is that Tour of California is a great race, but it is longer and you have to be fit for this reason, as well as the challenging parcours.”
The shorter race length and reduced travel time also recommended Picardie. “Tom started training with the right intensity only in the last two weeks," said sport director Wilfried Peeters. “We consider this one the best way to get Tom into the race rhythm and give him a few more days to tune up his condition after the short French stage race.”
US Continental team equipped for climbs and sprints
Jamis-Hagens Berman is prepared to rise to the challenge at the upcoming UCI 2.HC-rated Amgen Tour of California that will kick off on Sunday in Escondido. Climber Janier Acevedo and sprinter Juan Jose Haedo will lead the eight-man UCI Continental team against a world-class peloton.
In March, AEG announced Jamis-Hagens Berman's invitation to the race alongside four other US Continental teams, three Pro Continental teams and eight ProTeams.
"The Tour of California is the biggest race in America, I believe, and if we are invited to race, we want to be ready," Director Sebastian Alexandre told Cyclingnews. "We have built a team that is capable of winning stages in this type of event and we want to show it."
Alexandre believes that he put together a team that will succeed on the climbs and in the bunch sprints. This year's edition of the race includes decisive climbs in stage 1 on Mt. Palomar, stage 2 at the finish in Palm Springs and stage 7 at the finish on Mt. Diablo.
"We know it's going to be hard racing," Alexandre said. "Very hilly, especially on the first part. When I was deciding the team, I was focused on riders that could climb well."
Acevedo proved capable of leading the team on the climbs after finishing in the top 10 at the Tour de San Luis and recently winning the opening stage at the Tour of the Gila.
Alexandre said that his team is also prepared to handle the flatter stages with its sprinter Juan Jose Haedo, who returned to US racing this year after competing for five years under Bjarne Riis's teams CSC and Saxo Bank. He brings experience sprinting at the WorldTour level and has won a total of five stages in previous editions of the Tour of California.
"Haedo is a rider who has won several stages at this race in the past, a top world sprinter. We will definitely try to take advantage of any field sprints that happen."
The eight-man roster also includes Ben Jacques-Maynes, Luis Amaran, Tyler Wren, Carson Miller, Jamey Driscoll and Guido Palma.
"I'm confident the team will ride strong at this race," Alexandre said. "They will either animate the event by being a part of breakaways or by being represented during key moments of each stage."
Last year, Alexandre's team did not receive invitations to compete at the Tour of California, Tour of Utah or USA Pro Cycling Challenge. He hopes that strong performances next week will prove that his team belongs in other top-level races held in North America.
"This race is the first of other big UCI events here, so we want to take advantage of the opportunity and show that we can race well at this level," Alexandre said. "It's also very important for our sponsors Jamis, Hagens Berman and Sutter Home because we will be racing in front of thousands of people and with great TV coverage."