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Van Garderen aiming high at Amgen Tour of California

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Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia)

Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) (Image credit: Richard Tyler)
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Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) salutes from the podium

Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) salutes from the podium (Image credit: Jean-François Quénet)
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Tejay Van Garderen enjoys some Turkish food before the start of stage six in Fethiye.

Tejay Van Garderen enjoys some Turkish food before the start of stage six in Fethiye. (Image credit: Jean-François Quénet)
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American Tejay Van Garderen before the 2009 World Championships

American Tejay Van Garderen before the 2009 World Championships (Image credit: Gregor Brown)

Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) will embark on the biggest race of his professional career at the Amgen Tour of California (May 16-23) and the first year pro isn’t daunted by the challenge ahead.

Van Garderen, 21, has raced a full programme in his first year, with impressive results in the Volta ao Algarve and the Tour of Turkey, where he finished second overall. However unlike those two races, the Tour of California is a race he has targeted since the start of the year and he’ll aim to support Mark Cavendish in the sprints as well as help propel Mick Rogers to the overall win.

“California is a big one for me personally and for the team. My form is good. I’ve had a bit of time off and I think the rest will have done me good. I think I can aim pretty high at this race,” he told Cyclingnews.

“Rogers and Cavendish are the two goals for the team. If we can get stage wins for Cavendish and a high GC for Rogers I’ll just help out where I can. If I help out Rogers on the climbs I can, through natural selection, move up. Rogers has shown some good form and I think he has a good shot at winning this and I can protect him on the climbs.”

Van Garderen and his HTC-Columbia teammates have spent the last few days riding reconnaissance in the Napa Valley ahead of the eight-day stage race. On Tuesday they rode part of stage two to Santa Rosa, which climbs up Trinity Road. Van Garderen believes that with such an aggressive route it will be hard for the favourites to control affairs.

“Bonny Doon, Big Bear and the time trial in Los Angeles; those are the days we’re looking at. Every day is dangerous for breaks to stay away and every stage will be hard to control. It looks like there’s a lot of flat run-ins but it’ll be very stressful and anything can happen like it did at the Tours of Georgia and Missouri a few years ago.”

Van Garderen recently added his name to the growing list of riders who support BikePure, an organisation that supports clean sport. For Van Garderen, fair and clean sport are a fundamental parts of his character and he often speaks his mind via Twitter, recently commenting on the Thomas Frei case.

“BikePure promote clean sport and they work with Right To Play, which our team supports. As for doping, in this day and age there’s no need for people to do that. After reading Frei’s thing online, people were saying he was so honest but it’s hard to deny a positive test. It seems like he was selfish and talking about money. It gets me angry because I don't think there’s any need to be doing that. It’s just selfishness and greed.”

Van Garderen also voiced his opinion over the recent edition of the Giro del Trentino. “Looking at the top 5 of Giro del Trentino and I want to cry,” he Tweeted.

“With the guys that test positive there are certain rules: two-year suspensions, they shouldn’t join a Pro Tour Team for two years and they should pay back a year’s salary. Some of the guys got less than two years, went straight to ProTour team and I’ve not heard anything about them paying back their salary. I just don’t get it. I think the rules should be harsher for coming back. It’s like they were never gone.”

As for testing, Van Garderen has been tested over a dozen times this year - he’s raced 29 days – and while he believes the amount of testing is sufficient, more can always be done to improve the sophistication of testing procedures.

“The testing is already super sophisticated and we get tested hundreds of times. What more can you do there? The only thing is to make the punishment harder so it’s not worth the risk. The number of tests is enough but you can make the tests more accurate and that can always get better.”