On Sunday Tejay van Garderen (BMC) made history when he became only the third American to ever win the white jersey in the Tour de France. Finishing fifth overall in his second Tour, the BMC rider joined an elite club that includes Andy Hampsten and Greg LeMond and the latter believes that the 23-year-old is part of a new generation of Tour contenders.
“I think Van Garderen is a big talent and I’m excited about that,” LeMond told Cyclingnews.
“He’s just 23 years old and there’s just a big bunch of good new up-and-coming riders, a new generation.
“What’s impressed me about Van Garderen, though, is that he’s an all round rider. His time trial, of course, and when you look at his age that’s another thing, but he’s been in Europe for a long time but he’s all round talent and you don’t get a white jersey without that. He’s been racing for while and he’s built up experience already so he’s got that perfect combination of youth and ambition coming together.”
Van Garderen came into the race as super domestique for the defending champion Cadel Evans. BMC stuck to that game plan despite the American beating Evans in the prologue, the Besançon time trial and the climb to La Toussuire. However, in the second half the race, with Van Garderen in white, BMC allocated their new co-captain with team support. It paid off with Van Garderen moving up to fifth in the final time trial.
With a host of American riders closing in on the end of their careers Van Garderen, alongside Taylor Phinney and Andrew Talansky (second in this year’s Tour of Romandie) appear ready to take over the county’s stage racing baton.
While LeMond was full of praise for Van Garderen’s ride he eased on the side of caution, pointing out that it could take time for Van Garderen to improve on his early showing.
“What’s exciting about this new generation, from the Tour, is that you start seeing the new stars. But I remember that I was third in my first Tour. I wasn’t at my best and it took another year just to figure out how to race properly, not get sick and eat right. Van Garderen looked good in 5th place and there’s always improvement to be made in time trialing and climbing but you discover a lot in your first two or three Tours.”
After winning white in 1984 LeMond went on to win the Tour three times, first in 1986 and then again in 1989 and 1990. When asked to compare his own characteristics with what Van Garderen displayed at this year’s Tour, LeMond singled out one key trait: ambition.
“One similarity is that he’s got great ambition and I think that’s shown in is choices to move to Europe and the racing he’s done. That’s one of the better qualities that a rider can have. And as an all round rider, well that's what you need to be to win the Tour. He’s been making nice steady progress.”