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Tejay van Garderen (BMC)
Nobody had the punch to go with Porte, says BMC rider
Falling just outside of the podium positions at Paris-Nice may not have been the result Tejay van Garderen was looking for but his performance throughout the week-long tour may prove vital for the young American who aspires to lead BMC at the Tour de France.
Van Garderen finished the 'Race to the Sun' in fourth overall, 1:44 behind eventual winner Richie Porte (Sky) and says that while he would "never go into a race wanting to finish fourth" the support he received from his teammates during the race has left him confident ahead of his biggest goals of the season which include Tour of California, Tour de Suisse, Tour de France and US Pro Cycling Challenge.
"You always come to a race trying to win. I never come to a race thinking 'I want to get fourth-place' but at the end of the day the team rode amazing all week," said van Garderen.
"Everything is falling into place [with the team], protecting me on the hectic flat stages and I even had a lot of support up in the mountains. The team is riding perfectly so I can take a lot of confidence in that and you know it's still March," he added.
"This was a big goal and I'd say it was a success. I'd say the meat of my season is May through August with California, Suisse, Tour, US Pro Challenge. I pulled in some pretty valuable WorldTour points so all in all it's a successful week.
It was a small improvement from last year's edition where van Garderen finished fifth-overall to Bradley Wiggins (Sky) but with a the "meat" of the season yet to come, the 24-year-old says he's not yet at the top of his condition and that the race's winner Porte was simply better than the rest.
"I'd say this was a 90 percent peak and then I'll come down and then my 100 percent peak will be in that period. If you are good enough you can still win at 90 percent," said van Garderen.
"Nobody had the punch to go with Richie. Richie right now, like he said, he's going to be going back into a support role after this so this was his one chance to go for himself. I'm sure he's 100 percent peaked right now. It just comes down to his form just being a little bit better.
"You look at Talansky and he's also gunning for later in the year. I think Porte kind of knew that and seized an opportunity to make sure he was 100 percent ready now and maybe didn't really have the rest of the year in mind. That's just a theory but you never really know what's going on with other people. Richie was obviously really motivated and his form was that much better."
Van Garderen has his eye set on the next big goal of the year at the Tour of California which runs from 12-19 May where he will lead BMC with the intention of capturing overall victory. He finished just off the final podium in 2012 but with an added level of confidence and motivation, van Garderen will be pushing hard to prove his leadership quality once again.
"California will a good one. That will be a big goal of mine. Like I said before I never go into a race wanting to finish fourth. Sometimes you just have to be happy with fourth which I am but yeah, I'll obviously be trying to win," he said.
Another consideration is Cadel Evans, BMC's designated Tour leader, has so far failed to make an impact at Tirreno-Adriatico, dropping to 29th and 8:51 from the race lead at the end of Stage 5. With van Garderen having already placed higher than the former Tour winner Evans at last year's Grand Boucle, ultimate team leadership appears to be swinging in the American's favour.