EF Education First's Tejay van Garderen crossed the line at the end of stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California in second place after a great ride on a long day with nearly 4,500 metres of climbing. It was a good result that he thought would leave him in a good position for the rest of the week. But his position was even better than expected when he realised he'd taken the race lead.
"It came as a bit of a surprise," he said at the post-race press conference while seated next to stage winner Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep), who received a 10-second time bonus for the stage victory.
"I just would have assumed that Kasper would have taken the jersey on the back of his stage win. I didn't realise that he… I don't know," he said, and then addressed Asgreen. "What happened yesterday? So it was quite a surprise, but I'm super happy and thrilled and honoured to represent yellow."
Asgreen somehow lost 15 seconds on the opening stage – a pancake-flat route near Sacramento that ended with three short downtown circuits. With his time bonus from Monday, he moved into third overall, seven seconds behind van Garderen and one second behind overall runner-up Gianni Moscon (Team Ineos), who was third on stage 2.
Monday's result – and the yellow jersey that came with it – is van Garderen's best performance yet for EF Education First after moving to the programme following seven years with BMC Racing.
The 30-year-old Colorado resident is familiar with the US-based WorldTour team, having raced against them for years, especially at the Tour of California, where the Slipstream-run programmes have put 10 riders on the final podiums but have never claimed the top step. Now van Garderen is embracing the team's ethos while trying to give the programme the California result it's come close to but never attained.
"I remember they always showed up with a strong team and raced aggressive," van Garderen said of his former rivals and current teammates. "The overall victory always eluded them, but they've probably been on the podium as many times as this race has been in existence, and you don't do that without racing your bike and racing aggressively.
"We're not going to change that tactic this year. We're just going to race the same way with the same philosophy this team has always had. Hopefully this is the year that we come out on top."
Van Garderen won the race in 2013 and was second last year. He's raced California five times, with his lowest finish coming in 2010 during his first year on the WorldTour with HTC-Highroad, when he finished 24th. He's also finished fourth and fifth in California. Van Garderen's got the experience to manage his lead and GC ambitions, and he believes he's got a team here to back him up.
"We just want to race aggressively," he said. "The team is designed to just race our bikes, to animate the race, make the race, to not get caught on the back foot, and to just try to make the race happen.
"I think that's what you saw today. Now that we have the jersey, we might get stuck in a little bit more of a defensive role, but even then we still have cards to play. If other teams decide to be aggressive, we still have plenty of cards to play and send guys up the road."
Van Garderen also seems to have a handle on the pressure to perform that he experienced at BMC. With his new team has come a more relaxed attitude.
"I didn't read any headlines about me," van Garderen said of his pre-race preparation. "I don't know if there were any, but I've been too busy following the NBA playoffs. But now that my Denver Nuggets are gone, I might tune into Cyclingnews a little bit more.
"But I don't feel pressure," he said. "I'm always excited to come here. I've raced well here every year I've come here, and I even won it one year. It's just a motivation being here in front of my home crowd. I'm sure it's the same that Kasper Asgreen gets racing in Belgium [for Belgain team Deceuninck-QuickStep] and Davide Ballerini gets in Italy. This is our time to race on our home roads, and it gives us special motivation."