On paper, Tejay van Garderen (BMC) sets out from Maurepas this Sunday as one of the outstanding favourites for final overall victory at Paris-Nice, but the Race to the Sun rarely plays out according to a preordained script.
Twelve months ago, van Garderen’s race was ended prematurely by a bout of illness that forced him to abandon on the second day, but even without such misfortune, BMC directeur sportif Yvon Ledanois warns that Paris-Nice can never be reduced to its set-piece stages.
The summit finish on the Col de la Croix de Chaubouret on stage 4 is expected to be pivotal and the Col d’Éze time trial – where, surprisingly, van Garderen has never particularly excelled – provides the grand finale on the Riviera, but this race has a penchant for unexpected plot twists.
“Paris-Nice is not just the last stage,” Ledanois told Cyclingnews. “It’s always dangerous, Paris-Nice. You can expect a stage for the sprinters and then it’s a surprise and very hard, so you never know. For sure, the Croix de Chaubouret, the Col d’Éze and the prologue are a selection more or less for the top five on GC, but you have to be careful everywhere. Every time, the first stages are dangerous with the wind. We have eight days and every one of those days is dangerous.”
Van Garderen arrives at Paris-Nice after taking second place at the Tour of Oman for the second successive season, but while there is now a familiar rhythm to his early-season, one can never step into the same river twice. Second place behind Chris Froome in 2014 was viewed in wholly positive terms, whereas van Garderen appeared to harbour some regrets about missing out on victory to Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida) last month.
There are differences, too, in van Garderen’s mind-set this time around. Although he began to supersede Cadel Evans in the BMC’s hierarchy when he finished in fifth place at the 2012 Tour de France, he was only formally handed the keys to the kingdom at the beginning of last year. After recovering from a mixed build up to record another fifth-place finish in Paris, Ledanois believes van Garderen has grown into the leadership role and its associated pressures.
“This year for Tejay is a little bit different, I think,” Ledanois said. “Last year was the first time he had responsibility of being a leader after Cadel Evans, but it was a good experience for him and he’s changed a little. He’s taken on more responsibility and he knows that Paris-Nice is important for him and the team. Tejay is ready. He’s not ready at 90 per cent, he’s ready at 100 per cent. And we have a lot of riders at 100 per cent for Paris-Nice, not just Tejay.”
As the second WorldTour race of the campaign, Paris-Nice is an important outing for BMC as they look to defend their place atop the team rankings, while van Garderen himself is still seeking his first overall win in a top-level European stage race. Victories in California and Colorado in recent years were signs of progress, but one senses that the American’s ambition at this Paris-Nice doesn’t stop at bettering his third place finish of 2013.
“We have ambitions for him for top five, top three, sure, but we’re going for the win. After that, you never know,” Ledanois said. “He’s a young rider, he wants to win.”
Van Garderen is joined in BMC’s line-up by Rohan Dennis, who helped himself to both the Tour Down Under and a new world hour record in the opening weeks of the season. After a short break, the Australian eased back into racing action at Classic Sud Ardèche last weekend but despite his aptitude for the parcours, his personal ambition at Paris-Nice will not stretch beyond the prologue.
“After Tour Down Under and the Hour Record, I think Rohan needed recovery,” Ledanois said. “Rohan is here for the prologue at Paris-Nice and after that, he works for the team and for Tejay.”
Philippe Gilbert, too, will form part of van Garderen’s supporting team at Paris-Nice in the knowledge that every kilometre, figuratively and literally, is bringing him closer to San Remo and the first major goal of his campaign.
“The objective is Milan-San Remo, he wants to win Milan-San Remo and afterwards go to the Ardennes Classics,” Ledanois said. “Philippe asked this year for Paris-Nice because he knows this race, he likes it. He knows the number one priority is Tejay but he has the legs to win a stage.”
BMC for Paris-Nice: Rohan Dennis , Silvan Dillier, Philippe Gilbert, Ben Hermans, Amaël Moinard, Michael Schär, Tejay van Garderen and Peter Velits.
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