Tejay van Garderen entered this year's Amgen Tour of California hoping to win. At the opening press conference, the young American spoke confidently of his chances. Asked if he thought he belonged among the favorites he said, "I would agree, I would put myself as one of the favorites too, that is definitely the goal. The goal could either be to do well or to win and I'm going to try to win. If I fail, then I fail."
The 22-year-old van HTC-Highroad racer suffered a significant set-back to his ambitions on Wednesday's climbing stage between Livermore and San Jose. On the final climb, he could not hold the wheels of the lead riders, and slipped down the standings. "I felt good until the last part when the favorites went," he said. Van Garderen crossed the line 2:05 after winner Chris Horner, and slipped to 10th in the general classification.
In retrospect, van Garderen felt he misjudged the climb and his legs. "I think towards the bottom I tried to stay too long with some of the favorites. There was a Garmin guy up the road, so no one was working. I tried to do it myself and I don't think that was smart, because I used too much energy and started to fade." With Ryder Hesjedal up the road, van Garderen could not hope for help from Garmin-Cervélo riders Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky, who finished close on time with him.
Though he may have misplayed his hand on Sierra Road, van Garderen correctly anticipated that Chris Horner would ride well in this year's race. Before the race start, he called Horner the hardest rider to beat, and sure enough, Horner proved unrivaled on Wednesday's steep finishing climb.
"We all knew [Chris] Horner was going to be good. He skipped the Ardennes Classics to prepare for this race and that was a race that he normally targets, so we knew that he was motivated. He's good," said van Garderen of the current race leader.
Horner took 1:15 out of his RadioShack teammate Levi Leipheimer on the 5.8-kilometer climb, and he currently holds a comfortable lead in the general classification. Bike racing is an unpredictable business as Horner knows well. "Anything can happen," he said before the start on Thursday.
As for van Garderen, he is looking forward to the Solvang time trial and the steep switchbacks of Mount Baldy to improve his position. "I'm a little disappointed, but there is still the time trial in Solvang and Mt Baldy. I will try to keep the morale high and try to do something there," he said.
With 2:05 separating him from race leader Horner, van Garderen will need big rides on the next two stages if he wants to challenge Horner's hold on the race lead. Though van Garderen may fall short of the overall victory he had anticipated, the American sits 35 seconds behind fifth-placed rider Rory Sutherland of UnitedHealthcare. "I'm going to try to bring back some time this week," said van Garderen.
Van Garderen has spent much of his career racing the European circuit, first for the Rabobank Continental team and now for HTC-Highroad. He has found his share of success there including a stage win in the prestigious U23 Tour de l'Avenir and more recently, third overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
"I love coming back to the States. I definitely love it over in Europe, but it is always special to race in your home country," he said earlier this week.