After finishing fourth in yesterday's time trial in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) has his sights firmly set on finishing in the top ten overall.
Van Garderen went into the 49km time trial second overall, two seconds behind Alberto Contador (Astana) but despite losing 53 seconds to stage winner and new race leader Janez Brajkovic (Team Radioshack), the American still holds a podium place, with three mountain stages to come.
"Yesterday was good but it was really hard," Van Garderen told Cyclingnews.
"It was the longest time trial I've ever done. It was tricky tactically too because you'd think you'd want to ease into it and then hit it hard on the way back but there was a headwind the whole first half and then a tail wind in the second half. If you lost time in the start there was no way you'd bring it back."
Coming into the race, the 21-year-old was hoping of a high finish in GC. In his first season at Pro Tour level he has already impressed in the Volta ao Algarve, Tour of Turkey and the Tour of California. However, the Dauphiné represented his first chance to mix it with Tour de France contenders while assuming a level of team leadership of his own. So far, he's bettered even his own expectations with yesterday's ride.
"I was thinking top 15 maybe but I was not expecting a top five. I thought that they might have the timing wrong or something. I've done good time trials in the past, and I beat a lot of guys in the prologue too, but this is the Dauphiné."
"I think that's my best performance so far as a pro. There have been some other results in Algarve and Turkey and some good days working for Michael Rogers in California, but as far as personal results go, the Dauphiné is a huge race. It's on TV in so many countries. Even people back home in the States were watching. You look at the names and the teams here and it's for sure one of the biggest races in the world."
Today's fourth stage has a summit finish in Risoul but the next two stages will decide the overall classification. Stage five climbs the Col du Lautaret and Chamrousse, with stage six finishing on the Alpe d'Huez, a climb Van Garderen has never ridden.
"I came in here thinking I was going to fight like hell to get a top ten, but now it's looking like it's possible, depending on my climbing legs I can do even better. I'm sitting third but I've got to see if I'm still a climber."
As for tactics, Van Garderen will be riding defensively, following the likes of David Millar and Denis Menchov, rather than sticking to the wheels of more explosive climbers like Contador.
"If Contador really opens it up on the climbs you simply can't follow it. He might be taking it a bit easy before the Tour but Brajkovic and Horner are pretty explosive too. I think my tactic will be to follow guys like Menchow and Millar who take it at one steady speed. I just want to follow and see how far that goes."