Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) will make his professional cobbled debut in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, this Saturday. The American will line up alongside Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) and Phillippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) in his biggest one-day race since turning professional with HTC.
Van Garderen comes to the event with excellent form after finishing in the top ten at the Vuelta ao Algrave, but asserted that gaining experience remained the aim for Saturday's Belgian semi-classic.
"I don't think I'm the type of rider for these Belgian races but you never know when these skills can come in handy. Look at the Tour this year: there's 14 kilometres of cobbles in one stage and it'll be pretty decisive. Guys that have experience in that have the advantage over some of those 50 kilo Spanish climbers who have no idea what to do," Van Garderen told Cyclingnews from the HTC hotel in Gent.
Van Garderen specifically requested that Het Nieuwsblad be added to his race programme after the team initially left him out of the race. His request to race was met with a measure of respect from HTC-Columbia, who signed him from Rabobank's Under 23.
"I'll be glad when it's over but I asked them to put this race on my schedule. I was thinking it was important to have this experience of cobbled races, where they throw their elbows around so I'm going to get as much out of it as I can, learn and be aggressive. There's no point in dropping out early."
Van Garderen is fighting the steep learning curve that all first-year professionals go through, and while his results have been promising he's developed mentally as well, getting used to the different approaches of the sports directors at HTC.
"Each director has their different style. Brian Holm is more of a hard ass. He'll say, 'I tell you to do something and you do it." And then I worked with Tristan Hoffman in Algarve and he was more, 'Lets give this a try,' so it's a difference of each director having their own style. It's interesting because you'd think that one is better than the other but that's not the case. We've won with both styles."
After Het Nieuwsblad Van Garderen will take a short break before racing on the dirt roads at the Strade Bianche in Tuscany and Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. His big goal for the season remains the Tour of California in May.