The Volta a Catalunya, in which van Garderen took fifth overall after two top five rides on the key Pyrenean stages, was the first of the Australian and American’s three stage races together before the Tour de France. The two others are the Tour de Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine.
Van Garderen’s blistering attack on the Port Ainé climb on stage 4 of the Volta a Catalunya, some three kilometres from the line effectively opened up the hostilities between the top favourites - and earned him praise from Porte. At the same time, as van Garderen told Cyclingnews, the similar approaches that both he and Porte have towards stage racing make it much easier for them to deliver joint strategies like the initial attack from van Garderen on Port Ainé, then the second blow from Porte - that saw the Australian come home in third.
“We’re very like-minded in how we like to ride in the bunch, the kind of riders we are, so it’s not really about sculpting, it’s more about polishing,” van Garderen said before stage 7.
“This was our first race together, there are two more races together before the Tour, Romandie and Dauphine so we’ll get everything down-pat and ready to go by the time July comes round.”
Although van Garderen is satisfied with the collaboration between himself and Porte, he is less certain about the whys and wherefores of the strategies of some of their rivals, in particular Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) on the Port Ainé. The Spaniard chased him down successfully, but van Garderen feels Contador, who then cracked when Quintana launched a third attack, paid a high price for burning those matches.
“We’re going well, Richie and I were working well together. I was surprised, though, Contador was so adamant to chase everything back, he kind of shot himself in the foot and left the door open for Quintana,” van Garderen said.
After a very strong start to the season, taking second in the Vuelta a Andalucia after winning the mid-race time trial, van Garderen took part in a weather-blighted Tirreno-Adriatico where the key mountain stage, arguably his best opportunity to take the lead, was cancelled because of a forecast of snow.
Then van Garderen had a broken spoke close to the finish on the second last stage that, combined with a delay from a crash five kilometres of the finish, effectively cost him any chance of going for the overall in the final time trial. At Catalunya, though, it became clear that the American is still progressing in the right direction despite such setbacks.
“Things are kind of moving forward as we wanted. Tirreno was what it was, you can’t do anything about them cancelling the stage.
“It was a bit of bad luck in breaking my wheel before the final time trial, but we were successful with Greg [Van Avermaet] getting the win and it still was a good week of riding, and I took some fitness out of it. I just keep looking forwards.
“I go to altitude, then do the Tour of Romandie, I might slot in Liege, we’re discussing that, so for now it’s Romandie-Dauphine-Tour.” But after Catalunya, he feels he can be satisfied with the progress already made, too.