In the offseason, van Garderen moved from the now-defunct BMC Racing Team after seven years to Jonathan Vaughters’ EF Education First squad, an outfit he described a “truly American”. He said that he’s been fitting in well.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” van Garderen said of his new team at the pre-race press conference Friday in Sacramento.
“It’s a great group of guys, and I think I’ve integrated really well with EF Education First. We have the coolest-looking kit in the bunch. It’s been a great transition. They’ve been super motivating, super supportive and I’m really enjoying my time with them.”
Van Garderen, 30, has raced the Tour of California just once since his 2013 win, placing second last year after taking the lead with a time trial win but then ceding the yellow jersey back to Bernal on the long uphill slog to South Lake Tahoe.
Despite finishing second last year, van Garderen said he is not the outright leader of EF Education First for this race. The team has a deep and talented roster that includes Rigoberto Urán, Lawson Craddock, Sergio Higuita, Alex Howes, Lachlan Morton and Taylor Phinney. EF has numerous cards to play between the start in Sacramento on Sunday and the finish in Pasadena on may 18.
“I think it will be more of an open approach, because it’s going to come down to Baldy and who has the best legs there,” van Garderen said of the Queen stage on the penultimate day.
“If we want to play some cards earlier on in the race, to have more of an open approach would help if we wanted to move some pieces earlier. It just makes the race less predictable for our competitors to have multiple guys, so I think that’s really beneficial to have such a deep, strong team that we have here.”
Standing in the way of van Garderen’s quest for another California victory is the lack of any race against the clock. For the first time, the Tour of California doesn’t feature any time trials, which have accounted for van Garderen’s most recent wins at the Tour of California last year and at the 2018 Tour of Utah in August. Van Garderen suggested it’s an obstacle that he can overcome.
“Obviously, if I were to have created the course I would have included a time trial because everyone would want to build a course that’s suited to their strengths, but you can’t dwell on it,” he said.
“You just have to play the hand you’re dealt. The year I won California, I didn’t win it in the time trial. I had the jersey already when I came into the time trial, and all I did in the time trial is add to my advantage. You could say that I might have won the race anyway without the TT. So that’s the way I’m approaching the race this week. A TT would be nice, but you don’t necessarily need it.”
Former BMC teammate Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) is one rider who believes the lack of a time trial won’t hold van Garderen back. Porte chose the American as his biggest competition for the overall.
“I’m not going to argue with Richie,” van Garderen said when told of Porte’s comment. “I’ve put in the work and I feel healthy and my head’s in the right place. So all of the boxes are ticked. You can never control everything when it comes to a race, but I’m here to go for it.”