By Laura Weislo in San Jose
The BMC Racing Team has been off the front of this year's Tour of California more than any other team. In stage one, Jackson Stewart spent much of the day off the front solo, taking out the mountains and points leader's jersey at the end of the day. The next day, his team-mate Scott Nydam went on an equally epic journey in the miserably cold and rainy stage from Santa Rosa to Sacramento. Nydam mopped up mountains points up front while Stewart took a few behind, securing the mountains jersey for a second day as Nydam earned the most aggressive rider award.
On stage three, they were at it again, and when two riders attacked 12 kilometres into the stage, Nydam was the one to bridge across and spend another two hours in the breakaway. The team hasn't yet won a stage, but director John Lelangue told Cyclingnews that the riders are just racing according to plan.
"When you have a team first of all, an American team, and a California-based team, and when you have young riders and you don't really have a leader like Levi [Leipheimer] or Bobby [Julich] or [George] Hincapie, and you don't have a pure sprinter – you have one which is a whiz but is a young one, you need to be aggressive," Lelangue explained. "That's the only way you can learn cycling. It was the case in Qatar, and that's the way it will be all season."
The Belgian thinks the aggressive style of riding is good for the team to improve their racing and also to boost morale. "I think that they like it, they are taking confidence in themselves. You've seen Jackson the past two days, yesterday we had the top two of the KOM places."
Lelangue explained that Nydam's breakaway on stage two was designed to take some points and preserve Stewart's hold on the mountains jersey, but today, the plan was for him to take over the lead in that classification. "The plan today was for Nydam to try to take some points if he was recovering well from the previous day, and to place one of two riders, Tolleson or Nydam, in the break. That was the plan."
The team's leaders for the overall classification were to have come from three names after the prologue: Alexander Moos, Jeff Louder and Darren Lill, but after stage three, only Moos is in contention, 29 seconds behind the new leader, Levi Leipheimer (Astana). "For the rest of the group, Cruz, Wyss, Tolleson and Jackson - fighting for 20 seconds on Sierra Grade is not the best case. So I told them to try to find a good gruppetto and to get inside the time cut because we'll need them tomorrow."
Perhaps one of the most important reasons why this team has been seen off the front of the race so much is that they are based in Santa Rosa, and are keen to show their local fans some exciting racing. "It was the same as when I was with Phonak and we were riding in the Tour of Romandie or the Tour de Suisse," Lelangue recalled. "The local team always has to be there. It's the same for the Belgian teams when we are in Belgium. I think it's part of the job as a California team - we have to show everyone that we are here. It will be the case also in Missouri and Georgia, but even more so in California."
"That's why we were in those breakaways. It wasn't planned [in stage two] to be a solo breakaway, but once you're in the breakaway, why not? Let's go? Why not, have fun, try to take points, try to get the jersey like we did with the most aggressive one, and you never know, one day it may be successful for us."
For the rest of the Tour, BMC plans to be active at the front, but still being mindful of protecting Moos and his top ten position in the overall classification. "Tomorrow is another day. I know this day will be a big fight. We can play with the stage victory with Danilo Wyss tomorrow. We will try to have a good lead out for him [in San Luis Obispo]. He was top ten yesterday: he's a young sprinter but he has to learn and he's getting better every day."
The early part of the stage contains two sprints and three categorized climbs, and it will be important for the team to be in the move to protect Nydam's eight point lead in that classification. "If there is a big move, we want to be in the breakaway. If there is a big move with the GC contenders, we will protect Moos. But we will also try to have the jersey back one more day for the king of the mountains."
Looking forward to the following stages, Lelangue is not intimidated by the strength of the time trialists in the peloton. His team leader will be up against the best in the world, but the team is hoping Moos can hold his own. "Alex is normally a really good time trialist and we'll try to enter [into the stage] with him in a good position. If we can succeed in finishing the Tour of California in the top ten it will be good for us."