Tejay Van Garderen says he will look for every opportunity to convert success in the Espoir ranks into results in the ProTour as he makes his debut with HTC-Columbia this season.
The 21-year-old has moved to HTC after a two-year apprenticeship at Rabobank's Continental squad, where last year he secured overall victories at the Tour du Haut Anjou and Circuito Montañes, as well as second overall at the Tour de l'Avenir. With his step up to the ProTour environment just weeks away, Van Garderen is keen to prove he can match with the best.
"I'm definitely super happy to work for the team, but if there comes the chance for me to get in a breakaway, ride for general classification or ride something for myself I want to make sure I don't let that opportunity slip through my fingers and take full advantage," Van Garderen told Cyclingnews at the HTC-Columbia training camp in Mallorca.
Though ambitious, Van Garderen is only too aware that he will face a steep learning curve over the next several months. The process of getting to know his new teammates began last September and it will be the senior members of the team to whom he will look for guidance on the ins-and-outs of top-tier competition.
"I expect to learn a lot this season. I've done some 2.1 level races so I kind of have a little experience, but the difference between the Tour de l'Ain and the Dauphiné [Libéré] is pretty huge, and from the Dauphiné and the Tour [de France] it's even bigger again," he said. "I'm not expecting to do the Tour or anything, but I'm just going to try to develop, try to learn from some of the older guys; take my opportunity when it comes."
Van Garderen is hopes the opportunities will present themselves at the Tour of California and Dauphiné Libéré, both of which are featured on an impressive early-season programme. He will begin at Challenge Majorca on February 7, with the Volta ao Algarve, Vuelta a Catalunya, Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège to follow, prior to a start in Nevada City.
"We'll probably go [to California] with Michael Rogers, who got third there last year, as our guy. But like I said, if there's an opportunity - of course I'm going to go as hard as I can in the time trial and I'm going to seek out the breakaway, make it as long as I can on the climbs. If that means I can make top-10 then that's great."
The Dauphiné will mark the halfway point of Van Garderen's season. The eight-stage French race will be a target for him and a good performance there could lead to yet another milestone later in the season. "It's going to be my first peak of the season. California and the Dauphiné are close together and I'm pretty sure I can hold form through that period. My goal for the end of the season would be to make the Vuelta team and finish that."
Longer term, he hopes the Grand Tours will become his key objectives. Results including his second at l'Avenir would suggest he has the skill set necessary to develop in that direction, however, he warned, "You can't really compare amateur results to professional results because it's a completely different world.
"But if you take a look at what I've done in the amateurs, all of my results have really come in longer stage races where there are big climbs and time trials. I'm hoping to develop into a Grand Tour contender. I don't know if that's going to be possible, but I'd like to see myself as a stage racer."
Despite the fact that he has joined a US-based squad, Van Garderen will be one of just two US riders on the team this year. It is not a situation he is unfamiliar with, nor does it faze him, having spent two seasons as the only non-Dutch rider on the Rabobank line-up.
"When I came over on the national team it was all Americans, all you need to do was check the whiteboard, make sure your bags were packed and you were downstairs on time. In The Netherlands you're living separately to all your teammates so you need to make sure you get to the airport, figure out public transportation, you know, work out how Europe works, all as a 19-year-old," he said. "It was challenging, but I'm really glad I did it, I learnt a lot and I think it's made me a better bike rider for sure."
While he reflects fondly on his time racing in The Netherlands, it has led to his relative anonymity in the US. Van Garderen said a by-product of his start at the Tour of California will be the opportunity to display his talent in his home country.
"California's a really important one for the team and being an American myself I think it's a really good way to get some publicity in the States. It's weird, I have fans in Holland and more people know me there from racing for Rabobank than they do at home. In the past two years I've only done two races in the States - the national road race and time trial - so it'll be good to get my name out there."