Tejay Van Garderen claimed an unexpected result at the Dauphiné with a third place overall, an exceptional result for a neo-pro. The HTC-Columbia rider is fully aware of the significance of his performance although he had already given some indications about his potential in stage races when he finished second at the Presidential Tour of Turkey in April.
"This is the huge level of the Pro Tour," he said, comparing the Dauphiné to the Turkish race which he finished behind Giovanni Visconti but ahead of Grand Tour star David Moncoutié. "Multiple Tour de France winners have made the podium finish here! If I had been told at the beginning of my first pro season that I'd make the top three at the Dauphiné, I would have laughed," he said to Cyclingnews prior to going on stage to share the honours of the final podium with RadioShack's Janez Brajkovic and Alberto Contador. "Somehow things just worked out."
Van Garderen had a great time trial. He finished in fourth place on Wednesday in Sorgues at the end of a 49km long effort and maintained his position not far from the best climbers in the mountain.
On l'Alpe d'Huez on Saturday, he received the strange help of Chris Horner who rides for RadioShack as he could no longer help Brajkovic, who was up the road with Contador. The 39-year-old Californian might have been thinking of the US qualification for the World Championship via the world ranking for which the Dauphiné allocates an important number of points.
"I've suffered a lot," said Van Garderen to Le Dauphiné newspaper. "But Horner helped me a lot in the climb up to l'Alpe d'Huez. He didn't have any reason for doing it, except that we're both American. It was really nice of him. When Contador attacked, I was at my limit. I couldn't follow him. I'd done all I could."
Van Garderen was scared of the last day "because my legs were dead". However, he finished fifth in stage 7, which was another great achievement. "I've always been a specialist of staying strong day after day," said the 22-year-old from HTC-Columbia. "I'm able to go deep when I feel the pain."
After getting his first big ProTour result, Van Garderen lifted his ambitions. As he's a neo pro in a team supposed to work for Mark Cavendish firstly, a start at the Tour de France is out of question for him, but his first Grand Tour is scheduled for the end of August: the Vuelta a España.
"I'm looking forward to seeing if I can do that for three weeks as well," said the very enthusiastic rookie.