It’s only natural for a rider to fall back on a verbal crutch when facing the television cameras day-in, day-out after stages of the Tour de France, but the coda to so many of Tejay van Garderen’s responses this week has been particularly apt.
“We’re in a very good place,” van Garderen has repeated, in reference to his condition and his overall standing. Yet in a rather more literal sense, too, the American and his BMC team have been eminently well-positioned throughout this race’s breathless early exchanges.
After the Tour passed through a cross-section of Classics country on Monday and Tuesday, the expectation was that a form of détente would break out on the road to Amiens on stage 5. On a day of steady rain, intermittent crosswinds and sporadic crashes, however, the tension remained high, but van Garderen and his BMC squad were prominent at the front all afternoon long.
“It was incredible, everybody thought today was going to be the relaxed day of the Tour but the wind and the rain made it anything but relaxed,” van Garderen said afterwards. “The guys just sat on the front all day, I never had to leave third position. It costs a bit of energy but that’s worth it to stay ahead of the splits and the crashes.”
As on the cobblestones the previous day, there was no change in the status quo among the podium contenders on stage 5, even though the peloton split in two with 75km remaining, and there were just 80 riders in the front group by the finish. Van Garderen remains third overall, 25 seconds down on Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep), but just 13 behind Chris Froome (Sky).
“If you relax for one second in the Tour, then you’re going to lose it. From kilometre zero to the finish is full focus. The only time you get to relax is on the two rest days and between stages,” van Garderen said.
Van Garderen has scarcely put a foot wrong through the opening five days of this Tour and the positioning of his BMC squad towards the head of the peloton, not to mention the sheer weight of numbers around him at all times in the first week, recalls the support around Cadel Evans en route to his overall victory in 2011.
Michael Schär and Manuel Quinziato are the only survivors from that team, but the philosophy remains in place. While Damiano Caruso ought to offer some support in the high mountains, the make-up of the roster seems weighted heavily in favour of providing van Garderen with robust cover from the pitfalls of the opening week.
“It is very similar to 2011 in that respect because I think the winner of the race is going to emerge in the final week, as he normally does, but there’s just so much ahead of that,” BMC manager Jim Ochowicz told Cyclingnews. “So we’ve got to stay on today and not tomorrow. But what’s gone on so far, we’re happy with it.
“When the Tour was presented in October, I think everybody was walking out of there thinking, ‘What the heck are we going to do?’ But we came out of there with a plan and I think we’re on the right track.”
Once in the Pyrenees and Alps, of course, the onus will ultimately be on van Garderen himself to ensure that the team’s early labours will not be in vain. “When you get to that last part of the race, you have to do it yourself,” Ochowicz said. “Their job is to get him to that point like we’ve done in the past.”
Van Garderen’s performance at the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he finished second to Froome after being the only man who best withstood his surges on the final summit finishes, certainly augured well for his Tour, and five days in, he remains on track in his goal to better his fifth-place finishes of 2012 and 2014.
“He’s up another level, he changed his training with Dr. Max Testa [the BMC doctor who previously worked with 7-Eleven and Motorola – ed.] over the winter a little bit to improve his ability to accelerate and maintain that wattage over a longer period,” Ochowicz said. “There are no guarantees here but he came in here with a lot of confidence.”