Following a quiet start to the season at the Abu Dhabi Tour – and a winter of public speculation over his apparent Grand Tour rut – Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) won't put a number on what will constitute a successful Giro d'Italia campaign.
The Abu Dhabi Tour, with its newly-minted WorldTour status, attracted some of the world's best climbers despite there being only a single 15-km hilltop finish at Jebel Hafeet for them to test their legs in an otherwise flat race.
It was on that ascent that Van Garderen was left disappointed with his season debut, as he went out too quickly and then lost contact with the main group, which comprised Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and other likely Giro contenders in May.
"I was confident, I was ready to race, I had the team put me in a good position," said Van Garderen, who revealed he was suffering from a cold. "They did a perfect job, they really ramped it up at the start of the climb and kind of put me in the red. Normally I can go into the red and then, once it settles down, recover and regain the rhythm. But this time I went into the red and just kind of blew up.
"You can chalk that down to either the bug, or maybe just it being my first race. I don't want to make excuses. I'm not happy with my performance but at the same time I'm also not panicking because I know I put in a good winter. I'm confident in the work that I did up until this point."
Van Garderen was heralded as a successor to Tour de France champion Cadel Evans when he joined BMC but has been unable to reprise the form he produced to take two fifth overall places finishes, in 2012 and 2014. This year he has left the Tour to teammate Richie Porte.
"Part of the reason I wanted to ride the Giro is it's pretty clear that, after last year, Richie is going to be the leader for Tour. If I wanted to be a leader for a Grand Tour it was either going to be the Giro or the Vuelta, so I chose the Giro," he said.
"The route is certainly good, it's hard, lots of climbs, but there is a good amount of time trialling kilometres and that's certainly appealing. It's great that there is such a competitive field – when we go there and kick some arse no one can say it's only because so and so didn't show up."
The 28-year-old Van Garderen has faltered in Grand Tours in recent years, be it through injury, overtraining or under-eating, and his "slump," as BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz phrases it, has led to conjecture about his motivation.
"I'm not lacking love for bike racing. That's never the issue," Van Garderen said. "I haven't thought about taking a year off Grand Tours."
The former Tour of California champion couldn't fathom why he lost time in the final mountain stages as a co-captain with Porte at the Tour last year, which preceded a shortened show supporting Samuel Sanchez at the Vuelta a España. He took it all on the chin then, and spoke about going back to basics, which he has done by reuniting with coach Max Testa.
The Giro with its spate of maglia rosa contenders may prove to be one of the most competitive events of the year. It is still, however, popularly considered more relaxed than the Tour and can invite free-form tactics that may reignite Van Garderen, who will lead a team that will include Grand Tour aspirant Rohan Dennis.
"It makes things a bit more straightforward being a leader but at the same time I think Rohan is going to want to do a GC, or at least try for a GC at the Giro," he said. "I've never raced the Giro so I can't say, but I don't think it's the same as the Tour. You don't need to do a full nine-man lead-out from start to finish with the whole team. I think maybe you have freedom to float around a little bit more.