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Tejay van Garderen (BMC) nears the finish of his first big stage race win.
American coy about ambitions, but Gilbert says team is backing him to win
After his early promise in stage races and a series of ambitious pronouncements, BMC's Tejay van Garderen has backed down from declaring himself as his team's undisputed leader in recent years, but according to his teammate, world champion Philippe Gilbert, the team's Tour de Suisse leadership belongs to him.
"It's clear we will go for the GC win with Tejay and I will help him as far as I can," Gilbert said in a pre-race chat. "If I can go for a stage win on a certain day I can try, because I need it. It's time to win now. The form is good, and I'm healthy. I feel very good and it's time to make a nice win."
Van Garderen, fresh off his first overall stage race win as a WorldTour rider at the Tour of California, would only say he is aiming for a high placing. "I definitely would like to get a good result here. It would be a nice race to pick up a result or even a win, but it's also kind of final preparation for the Tour de France," he said. "I haven't looked at the start list, but there's going to be some good riders here."
Having already broken his stage race duck, van Garderen said there is less pressure on himself and the team to perform, but that the win hasn't changed much for him. "You have to move past the win and start focusing on the next race because it comes up quickly."
Gilbert expressed confidence in his young American teammate, emphasizing that he enjoys riding in service of him. "He's really relaxed, he knows how to race, how to manage the stress and to focus on the race. He's just very focused on the most important things, resting and being in a good spot at the right moment. He never loses energy for nothing, he's a smart rider and he's a fighter. I like to race for a guy like this because I know he'll give everything and he's smart, I know he doesn't make big mistakes, so at the end of the day you don't ride for nothing. It's always nice to ride for a guy like this."
While he hopes to get a high placing in the overall classification, van Garderen said he can still try for the best young rider's jersey, but that getting a win for BMC was the priority over all - and if that means working for someone else, he will do it.
"It's obviously more important if we can have someone from BMC win the race than to get a couple high places on GC. If it comes down to me helping Cadel [Evans] in the mountains, then I'm happy with that."
There is still much discussion over which BMC rider will lead the team in the Tour de France amongst the pundits, and van Garderen plans to be ready for any eventuality.
"I'm going to show up to the Tour with the best form possible - you can never predict what's going to happen on the road. Cadel could get the legs he had in 2011 back, and if he has that, I'm more than happy to help him win. If he shows that he's tired from the Giro or his illness resurfaces, I think BMC are happy to maybe have another card to play with me," he said.
"The team shows a lot of long-term interest in me, they've extended my contract through 2016," he continued. "The team wants me to win the Tour eventually. I don't know if I'm ready to do that this year, but hopefully I will get the opportunity to fight for a high GC placing."
Having two riders high up in the standings is, after all, a tried and true method to gain a tactical advantage in cycling. "You saw that in 2011 when the Schlecks were trying to beat Cadel, Andy went up the road and Frank was sitting on Cadel's wheel, and Cadel was forced to chase. We could try a tactic like that. It would be a little easier to play with tactics if you have two rather than one."