Tejay van Garderen has joined the ranks of the Tour de France's top contenders, thanks in part to BMC’s winning performance in the 28km team time trial on stage 9 in Plumelec. BMC came out ahead in an extremely close battle with Chris Froome's Team Sky, with only 62 hundredths of a second separating the two teams at the line. Now sitting second overall at a mere 12 seconds from race leader Froome, the American is much better positioned than the pre-race favourites Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who is 1:03 behind, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who trails at 1:59 and last year’s winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who is at 2:22, three of the so-called 'fab four'.
“It’s an incredible feeling. So far the team has been incredible," van Garderen said in Plumelec. "We’ve passed every test with flying colours. It’s giving me a lot of morale going into the mountains. It’s given the team a lot of morale to see me high up there in GC. Everything is clicking. It’s all about momentum. I think we gained a lot of momentum in this first week." Shortly afterwards the team would make the transfer to Pau where the Tour is based for its first rest day.
The team time trial proved to be a true thriller. Until the start of the second climb no more than a second separated BCM and Team Sky. On that second climb Sky accelerated and seemed to have created a decisive gap, taking five seconds on BMC when reaching the foot of the final climb. That’s when BMC clearly had more left in its tank. Van Garderen was in the company of four teammates as the clock stopped when the team’s fifth rider crosses the finish line, Rohan Dennis, Damiano Caruso, Greg Van Avermaet and Samuel Sanchez. BMC took back six seconds on the 2000m-long Côte de Dadoudal, and denied Sky the stage victory.
“We were getting positive splits out there. We knew we were on a really good one. In a perfect world we would’ve taken the stage and the yellow jersey but we’ll take the stage," van Garderen said. "The whole thing was just a blur. We definitely had to rail the corners and make sure we stayed together outside of them. On the climbs we had to make sure that the stronger guys pulled for longer. You have to finish with five guys. Rohan Dennis he was the key element to the team, he’s just got a motor."
After a great team time trial, no major time loss in the difficult first week filled with crashes, crosswinds, and the Mur of Huy and Mûr-De-Bretagne, van Garderen has been propelled into one of the major protagonists of this Tour de France. The situation came at a cost to the BMC team, who used a lot of energy riding near the front of the race every day, but van Garderen said it was worth it.
"Every team has had to spend energy and time on the front. You can look at it in two ways. If we were at the back we could have been tangled up in a bunch of crashes and maybe caught behind some splits like a lot of other teams did. If you spend time on the front it costs energy in the wind but it also saves energy not having to grow skin back overnight."
When asked whether he feels confident enough to fight for the overall victory in the Tour de France, the American rider was cautious.
“That’s tall order. First we have to get to the Pyrenees. The Pyrenees are going to be the test to see who’s actually fit enough to win the Tour. The Alps are going to be who has the stamina to make it to the end. We definitely passed the first phase of the Tour very well. With the way I was climbing and feeling in the Dauphiné compared to Froome I think I’m pretty close. We’re really not going to know that until we get to the third week to see who really has the depth to hold it. The Tour is a marathon. We’re not even close to the end."
In a Tour de France that was always built up as a battle between the fab four: Contador, Froome, Nibali and Quintana, the presence of van Garderen comes somewhat as a surprise. He understood why he wasn’t named as part of the original display of pre-race favourites. “I don’t know. I mean. We’ll see. Those guys, they have that tag which is getting a little irritating hearing that. I’m not offended not to be named in that. All those guys in the fab four have all won Grand Tours. I’ve had a couple of good top fives in the Tour but I’ve yet to finish on the podium or win one. If I’m not spoken about as much as those guys are I understand but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be intimidated by them. That doesn’t mean I’m not here to race against them or try to beat them. The press can say what they want but that doesn’t make a difference to how things are raced on the road.”