American Tejay van Garderen (BMC) has been on the podium in numerous stage races, but has yet to stand atop the final podium in a major event since graduating to the WorldTour. His luck could be turning around, however, as the second Tour of California stage left him in what he called a perfect position for the overall classification.
Van Garderen lost contact with stage winner Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) on the steep final climb at the Palm Springs Tramway, losing 12 seconds over the course of the final 500 meters, but said he had to make a choice at that moment to follow and risk going to far into the red, or let Acevedo go and limit his losses.
"The stage win would have been nice, and the [leader's] jersey would have been a nice gift, but what's important is to have the jersey in the end, and I feel very confident I can beat Acevedo in a time trial," van Garderen said.
After taking consecutive, frustrating podium finishes in the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, being on the podium of the Critérium du Dauphiné and Critérium International, and taking the best young rider classification in the Tour de France, van Garderen has been touted as the rider to beat in this year's Tour of California.
Now with a 15-second lead on UnitedHealthcare's Philip Deignan, and a 33-second lead on the next well-known time trialist, Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff), more than a minute on Cameron Meyer (Orica GreenEdge) and Matthew Busche (RadioShack), and a host of lesser-known domestic riders in the midst, van Garderen is feeling confident of his chances.
"It's nice to get a little bit of a buffer between them," he said. "You can never count them out, Mick [Rogers] was a three time world champion, and there are good time trialers out there, but it's certainly good to be the best placed GC time trialer in this race right now."
Busche became his team's impromptu leader after both Andy Schleck and Haimar Zubeldia lost contact on the final climb, and he thinks Acevedo can still be counted as a favorite.
"I guess now by natural selection, I'll be the leader of the team," Busche said. "Tejay obviously is the favorite still. And I believe Acevedo won the stage, so those two will be the favorites for sure. I don't know much about Acevedo, but obviously Tejay can time trial like heck. And even Phillip Deignen. At the bottom he attacked and he rode a heck of a climb.
"I'm disappointed that I lost contact with those front guys. I gave it all I had, but it was brutal. So we'll see from here."
The stage was a big boost to the morale to the domestic US riders, in particular Haga, who came across in seventh, 1:13 behind Acevedo.
"I came off the lead group shortly before halfway up, and then I had to ride my own pace the rest of the way up the climb," Haga said, adding that maintaining his top 10 spot overall is a good goal.
When asked how it felt to be showing his back wheel to some of the top riders in the world, Haga said, "It's pretty awesome, I certainly wanted to do it. That's half of it, to want to and think you can."
Pat Malach contributed to this report.