BMC were the first team to hold their press conference on the second rest day of the Tour de France in Gap, with Tejay van Garderen looking relaxed and confident as he spoke to a small gathering of media in his team hotel after breakfast and just before the team’s training ride.
Van Garderen slipped to third overall on stage 14 to Mende after losing time to both Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). He is targeting a place on the final podium in Paris but accepted that he will also have to watch out for the likes of Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde as they try to take his prestigious podium spot.
“They say there’s never an easy day on the Tour de France and that’s certainly true after the tough first week and the even tougher second week. But I feel like I’m recovering well every day, the team is strong every day and we always have strength in numbers in the final. I expect that to continue all the way to Paris,” van Garderen said in reply to questions from Cyclingnews.
“There’s always a chance that Froome could stumble a little bit. Right now we haven’t seen any signs of him cracking. I need to look out for Quintana but I also need to look out for the two Spanish guys behind me: Valverde and Contador. They’re pretty close. For sure they’re going to want to take advantage if I fall into a difficult place but I’m feeling strong and the podium in Paris is a very realistic goal.
“The third week if the Tour is always very unpredictable, you never know how people are going to respond. Nothing is a given but I’m ahead and they’re behind, so they’re going to have make the attacks and not me.”
Van Garderen has clearly improved and shown to be stronger and more consistent in 2015. He hopes to improve even more in the years to come.
“If you look at last few years, I was kind of off the back, in my own rhythm, trying to chase these guys. Now I’m right there with them,” he said.
“If there’s five guys going over the top of the climb, I’m in those five guys. I’m still young; I turn 27 next month, so I still think I have a couple of years where I can improve more. I definitely think I have certainly improved over the years.”
In defence of Froome
Just as he avoided tangling with Warren Barguil on the descent of the Col de Manse on Monday’s stage to Gap, van Garderen also avoided talking about the possible arrival of Riche Porte from Team Sky in 2016, only saying he’d welcome him in the team.
“I speak with him often and we speak often in the bunch. He’s a friendly guy and a talented rider and so would make the team much stronger. I don’t know for sure if he’s coming here,” he said.
Van Garderen did not shirk away from a question about taking on riders who have been involved in doping scandals in the past. He was also happy to talk in defence of Chris Froome, who has been under intense scrutiny since taking the yellow jersey in this year’s Tour de France.
“I ride clean and I want to show that it’s possible to reach the podium riding clean. I think Chris Froome is also clean and these other guys they have a history but that’s not my motivating factor to beat them. It’s more I want be there for me firstly,” Van Garderen said.
“I think it’s pretty unfair for him [Froome]. He’s definitely dealing with the aftermath of what other people did before him. I think he’s a talented rider and pays close attention to detail. I don’t think his ride on Saint-Martin was out of this world as some people said. If I looked at the numbers I did and the time that he did, I think he dealt with the heat and with the rest day better than other people. It’s not like he did a performance that was much difference to what he did at the Dauphiné or that we saw anywhere else. I think it’s unfair for him to have to del with all the scrutiny.”
The importance of the rest day and the mountain stages to come
In 2014 van Garderen lost precious time and any hope of a podium spot on the stage after the second rest day. BMC headed out for a ride at 10:30 on today’s rest day and the American seemed ready to work hard to ensure his body does not relax too much.
“I think the biggest thing with the first rest day was the heat. We came from northern France, which was low in the 20’s centigrade and now were in southern France and were closer to 40C. I think a lot of people struggled with that,” he explained.
“Last year I think I had a fuelling issue, I don’t think I ate much and ran low on sugars. We definitely ticked that box and maybe forgot another thing (on the first rest day in Pau). I don’t know how you prepare for that. Maybe ride a little harder, do a bit more efforts on the bike to sweat more and training the intensity to keep the motor running.”
The Alps surround Gap and the Tour de France contenders face four decisive days in the mountains before heading to Paris. Van Garderen has studied them all either in training and racing. He revealed he is especially wary of stage 19 to La Toussuire on Friday.
“They’re all hard. We saw in the Dauphiné that the Pra-Loop stage was very selective. But for me the stage to La Toussuire is the hardest. We have four big passes and nearly 5000m of climbing. That’s a big one.”
BMC have had a successful Tour de France so far with Rohan Dennis winning the opening stage, victory in the team time trial and Greg Van Avermaet winning the uphill sprint to Rodez.
Van Garderen’s perfect scenario would be to reach in Paris in yellow but he accepts that a more attainable goal would be to defend his place on the podium.
“The perfect scenario is that I’m wearing yellow in Paris. But I’m 3 minutes down so I don’t know if that’s a realistic goal. From now to Paris, if we can get another stage victory and remain on podium, that’d be good.”