Despite the lack of a "proper" time trial in next year's Tour de France, BMC Racing's Tejay van Garderen said Wednesday that he believes he can equal or improve his two previous fifth-place finishes in the race.
"Last year I really felt like I was on the cusp of a real breakthrough of being one of the main riders," the 26-year-old American said from the team's training camp in Denia, Spain.
"Things just kept getting in the way that kind of stunted that a little bit, you know, getting sick before Paris-Nice and crashing in Romandie," van Garderen said. "It just felt like I never really reached that level that I was showing I was maybe capable of reaching. So if I have everything go smoothly, I think even this year I could have finished already a couple places higher, and I think next year is the same."
One obstacle in van Garderen's path back to the top five or beyond could be the 2015 route, which includes just 42km of time trials to counterbalance seven mountain stages and five mountain finishes, making it a race for the pure climbers.
"I do think it's a pity that there's no proper time trial," van Garderen said. "Christian Prudhomme was quoted as saying the winner of the Tour should be the most complete rider, which is why he put in the stages in the Ardennes and the stage with the cobbles and the big mountains, which I agree with, that the Tour de France winner should be a complete rider, but he's kind missing one key element to make it a truly complete rider who wins."
That being said, van Garderen believes there will be plenty of chances where he, with the help of his team, can put time into the climbers. The 28km team time trial during stage 9 will likely provide one of those opportunities.
"We're the team time trial world champions, and we have a good team time trial there," he said. "We're a strong Classics team, so on the cobblestones and in the crosswinds in Utrecht I think we'll be one of the strongest teams, so we definitely have plenty of chances to take advantage."
And the BMC leader hasn't completely counted out the possibility of gaining time in the short, 14km time trial that will open the race in Utrecht.
"If we get a stiff headwind, that means we're out there for longer," van Garderen said. "In 20 minutes, a real specialist compared to someone who is maybe not so good against the clock, that could be a good 45 seconds or something."
Van Garderen said he will prepare for July with a typical build-up, but this year he'll add Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, races he's done in the past but haven't been on his schedule for the past few years.
"I'll do some other stage races, like I start out with Oman," he said. "I do Paris-Nice and then some Spanish stage races, Catalunya and Pais Vasco. The Dauphiné will be the final race."
Questions about motorpacing with Armstrong
Van Garderen also responded to questions Wednesday over last month's revelations that banned former Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has been motorpacing him in Aspen, Colorado, where they both live.
"I kind of expected to hear a little bit about it," van Garderen said during a press conference. "But I mean, at the end of the day I just felt that it wasn't really fair that we can go to George Hincapie's gran fondo, we accept that Christian Vande Velde can be our commentator, I give interviews to Frankie Andreu, but Lance is the evil guy, and I just don't see how there can be that double standard."
Armstrong had his seven Tour de France victories stripped and is currently banned for life from competition following his admission that he used performance enhancing drugs throughout much of his career. In October, USA Cycling prohibited Armstrong from riding in former teammate George Hincapie's gran fondo, which van Garderen attended.
Despite his feelings about a perceived double-standard in cycling's treatment of Armstrong, van Garderen said he wasn't trying to make a statement when he chose to motorpace behind his Aspen neighbor.
"It was really just that my normal motorpacer was out of town," van Garderen said. "[Armstrong] lives a couple blocks down the road. He has a Vespa and some free time, so I just asked him. I was just like, 'Hey, can you spare an hour?'
"People can think what they want, but I think the story is old enough now, and I think with all the other riders in his similar position, he's been punished enough. I don't think he's … I don't know. I'll stop there."
It's not clear if Armstrong's participation in van Garderen's training would be a violation of the 2015 WADA Code's new rules, which take effect January 1, prohibiting association with sanctioned or convicted coaches, trainers, physicians or other athlete support personnel. The US Anti-doping Agency did not immediately respond to Cyclingnews' requests for comment on whether motorpacing would fall under the new code's prohibition against "obtaining training."