Van Garderen, who placed third in Colorado last year and recently won the best young rider competition in the Tour de France with a fifth-place overall finish, said he is most defeinitely here to win the USA Pro Cycling Challenge this year.
"Absolutely," van Garderen, 24, said Saturday at the pre-race press conference. "That's the goal. That's what I'm here to do. We have a strong team around me, and I think we have a good shot. We're all motivated, but it's going to be a big challenge, and it will be hard to do."
Joining van Garderen and Phinney on the start line Monday in Durango will be 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, Mathias Frank, Ivan Santaromita, Michael Schär and recent Tour of Utah winner Johann Tschopp.
Phinney said he plans to work for van Garderen throughout the week of racing, but he will also look for his own chances, especially during the final-stage individual time trial in Denver.
"For sure, yeah," Phinney, 22, said of his hopes to make splash in on the final stage. "I mean it's nine miles, 15 km on the final day in Denver. It's going to be a spectacle. And it's a perfect distance for me. I'm going to do my job during the week, and if it comes down to sprint on any day I might try and mix it up if I get the OK. But I'm really targeting that last stage, and I'd also like to ride through Boulder down Broadway on the front for my friend Tejay. So hopefully we can make that happen."
In 2011 van Garderen, riding for HTC, took the race lead from Leipheimer when he placed second on the stage 2 run in to Aspen, finishing second in a sprint behind George Hincapie from a small group of six that got away on the harrowing rain-slicked descent to the finish. But he lost the jersey for good during the Vail time trial, when he finished 51 seconds behind Leipheimer for sixth. Van Garderen finished the race third overall, 17 seconds behind Leipheimer and six seconds behind runner-up Christian Vande Velde (Garmin).
This year he's coming off an impressive ride in the Tour, and he's got the support of his entire team, including former Tour winner Evans. Although van Garderen started this year's Tour working for Evans, their roles reversed when Evans fell ill and van Garderen passed him in the overall competition. Evans appeared to imply he would continue the role of super domestique for van Garderen in Colorado.
"The biggest difficulty for us coming from Europe is how much time we can commit to coming over here and adapting to altitude," Evans said. "That's why we're fortunate we have a guy on our team called Tejay van Garderen who lives here in Colorado, which takes a bit of pressure off my shoulders."
Van Garderen appeared highly motivated Saturday, especially in light of the team's support and his best-ever finish at the Tour. But he also said nothing comes easy in bike racing, and the dynamics of a seven-day race are much different from a three-week tour.
"I'd say I have a lot of confidence coming out of the Tour," van Garderen said. "I think I showed that I can be up there challenging with the best. But the thing is, a three-week tour is completely different than a one-week tour. Even at the Tour [de France], I had one really bad day on the first summit finish. And if that happens this week, you can't come back. There's not three other weeks to make up for that."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.