Tejay van Garderen’s season is designed with Paris in mind and he makes an early visit to the City of Light this weekend for the start of Paris-Nice, one of his key intermediate steps en route to the Tour de France. 5th overall in Paris-Nice last year, van Garderen carries the mantle of pre-race favourite this time around, but the American bears the burden lightly and insisted that he was just one of a number of riders with serious designs on final victory.
“I don’t see it that way, that I’m the main favourite,” van Garderen told Cyclingnews at BMC’s hotel in the sleepy Parisian suburb of Montesson, ten miles from the Champs-Élysées and an even greater remove from the hubbub of the Tour in July. “There are five or six guys off the top of my head who are favourites for this race: I think we’re all on the same level and I wouldn’t put one over the other.”
Among the names van Garderen cites are fellow countryman Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), Richie Porte (Sky) and Robert Gesink (Blanco), although he is acutely aware that the list of contenders could look very different after the opening road stage.
“Every day was a selection last year; we had echelons on the first day,” van Garderen recalled. “Twenty guys went away and if you weren’t in that group, you were out of the race already. This year we’ve got the Montagne de Lure as well and the Col d’Éze time trial again, but there are some pretty hard, hilly stages in between all of that too. There isn’t a single stage where you can sit back and relax.
“Obviously the Col d’Éze might be my best opportunity to win the race but if there’s an opportunity on the Montagne de Lure, then you have to take it. I’m going to take the race as it comes.”
Paris-Nice is van Garderen’s second race of the year after beginning his campaign at the Tour de San Luis in January. He surprised himself by finishing second overall in Argentina and came away from the race content with his week’s work. “I thought I might have been a bit further up in the time trial,” he admitted. “But then my climbing was really good and my level’s only improved with the training block I’ve done since.”
Van Garderen spent much of the month since San Luis training in California and he explained the rationale behind taking a relatively long hiatus between his first and second competitive outings. “After Paris-Nice last year, I was already pretty tired when I went on to the Volta a Catalunya, so we changed it up this year just to spread out the racing a little bit more,” he said. “Hopefully it can make me good at the races themselves and still fresh enough to keep that level for more races.”
Evans and Sky
A notable feature of the American’s pre-Tour de France build-up is that, Critérium International apart, he will not race with Cadel Evans before July. While van Garderen acknowledges that BMC’s leadership question will be subject to much media attention in the months to come – “Cadel’s the leader with full support of the team; I’m not co-leader but I have a bit of a free role,” he explained – the thinking behind their differing race programmes is rather straightforward.
“WorldTour points are really important, so it makes sense to split up the two leaders,” he said. “If Cadel can win at Tirreno and I can win Paris-Nice, then that’s better than if we’re at the same race and only have one winner.”
Van Garderen paid short shrift to the idea that one programme is better than the other, nor did he feel that he was missing out on an important gauge of his Tour credentials by not lining up at Tirreno-Adriatico, where Alberto Contador and Chris Froome are among the starters. “Everyone has different ways of preparing for the season and who’s to say whether it’s helpful to line up with those guys? Sometimes it can help to measure yourself against people but other times it really doesn’t matter.”
As a team with designs on the Tour and two riders with overall aspirations, an obvious yardstick for BMC is Team Sky. A considerable degree of mystique has built up around the British outfit’s ‘marginal gains’ approach and their attention to detail vis à vis technology and preparation, but van Garderen doesn’t feel that BMC are lagging behind in any hypothetical yellow jersey space race.
“There are always new things coming out and things you can learn but that’s not to say that I just want to follow what Sky are doing because that’s the ‘answer,’” he said. “If they’re doing something that looks interesting then maybe we could do that too, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to ride your bike and you’ve got to ride your bike hard.
“Anyway, we’ve hired Allan Peiper to be our performance director at BMC, we’ve already spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel, we’ve hired some nutritionists, and we have a whole recovery routine down and training plans from our various coaches and doctors. I wouldn’t say this team is behind. We’re ahead in a lot of ways.”
For now, of course, van Garderen’s focus is purely on the week ahead, as he seeks the first stage race victory of his professional career. He came close at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge last year, only to be denied by the since-suspended Christian Vande Velde – “Christian was the best rider at the race and he was eligible to race,” van Garderen said – and close again in Argentina in January. Can he break his duck at Paris-Nice?
“I’d like to. I definitely want to win. It’s certainly not my goal coming into a race to finish in second place. I just have to be patient. [Winning a stage race] will happen, I’m not worried that it’s not going to happen. And hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.”