Team HTC-Columbia manager Rolf Aldag has confirmed that Tejay Van Garderen will start the Vuelta a España but says the young American will race without any obligation to finish the race. Aldag also indicated that Mark Cavendish will remain at the team in 2011 and he spoke of his plans to bolster the Manxman's lead-out train.
“The Vuelta will be a learning process for Tejay,” Aldag told Cyclingnews. “We have to be careful with a young rider like him. There was a lot of internal discussion in the team about whether or not to send him to the Vuelta. Of course he wants to show himself, but it’s a grand Tour, it’s three weeks of racing and we don’t want to kill him.”
Van Garderen has impressed throughout his first season with HTC-Columbia. He was third at the Criterium du Dauphiné in June and has just finished fourth at the Tour de l’Ain race in France.
Aldag said that the 22-year-old American will ride the Vuelta primarily to gain experience. “The most important thing is that he doesn’t come out of the Vuelta with the impression that he can’t do a race like that,” he explained. “Tejay will have the freedom to do everything, and that includes quitting the race after ten days if he feels tired.”
Van Garderen surprised many with his strong showing at the Criterium du Dauphiné but for Aldag, the most pleasing aspect of the American’s year has not been his peaks so much as his lack of troughs. Unusually for such a young rider, Van Garderen has ridden consistently throughout his debut season with HTC-Columbia.
“It’s surprising how stable he’s been the whole season. Often a young, talented rider will perform well, race on a good level for a little bit and then disappear, but not Tejay,” Aldag said. “He started off well at the Volta ao Algarve and just continued from there. Obviously to finish third at the Dauphiné at that age is pretty unusual, but he’s a rider with that kind of potential. It’s his continuity that’s been the surprising part.”
Before joining HTC-Columbia, Van Garderen rode for the Rabobank Continental Team for two seasons as well as competing for the USA Under-23 team. Aldag credits this experience as helping with his fluid transition to ProTour racing.
“His coach from the US Under-23 set-up, Jim Miller, has a very good working relationship with us and that has been very beneficial,” said Aldag. “Tejay’s private life and his training have been very stable and that meant we didn’t need a full year to figure out his racing or training schedules. There’s been a lot of continuity from what he’s been doing before and he’s been able to carry that on with logical steps.”
While Van Garderen’s background aided his progress in 2010, Aldag admits the same cannot be said of all of HTC-Columbia's new signings.
“Some need more time, but we also have to ask ourselves if we have done things right,” Aldag admitted. “We had a meeting with the new riders after the Worlds last year, which was helpful, but we should have had a follow-up during the winter.”
“It was a surprise for some of them when the season started. It’s nice to get your new bike and jersey but you also need to be introduced to how tough racing at the highest level really is. There are some things that you just can’t know at that stage, and that’s something we’ve learned this year,” he said. “A guy like Tejay already had a good training programme, but some of the other guys were doing training programmes with their fathers, sort of like a family business.”
Van Garderen has been the undoubted star of HTC-Columbia’s class of 2010, but Aldag refused to single out one rider over another, and revealed a key element of his squad’s philosophy on the development of young talent.
“We can only make a summary at the end of the season,” the German said. “After the first year, a rider should have a clear idea of what he wants to do in his career. Going in to the second year has to be convinced, for instance, that he’ll ride Flanders or Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It’s not good for his development if he’s still experimenting in the second year.”
Supporting Cavendish's sprinting prowess
Aldag indicated that HTC-Columbia will continue to be built around Mark Cavendish’s sprinting prowess. The Manxman has a contract for 2011 but looks set to reach a new deal with the team. Key teammates such as Bernhard Eisel and Mark Renshaw have already agreed new contracts.
“If we have a young GC rider we can develop, that’s good, but investing money in GC riders who can’t win the Tour makes no sense. If you look at the 2010 Tour de France, Mark Cavendish was the biggest story outside of Contador and Schleck, so our goal has to be to support him,” Aldag told Cyclingnews.
André Greipel and Vicente Reynes have confirmed that they will leave HTC-Columbia for Omega Pharma-Lotto. Other riders may also move on, but Aldag is sure that he will have a strong team to support Cavendish next season, regardless of whether new riders arrive at the team.
“Our priority is to develop what we have already and secure them for next year, and then maybe after that we can look to strengthen the team by closing gaps. But first we will look to develop the riders we have,” he concluded.
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.