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Van Garderen proves exemplary in domestique role at Paris-Nice

Tejay Van Garderen pins his ears back with 500m remaining.

Tejay Van Garderen pins his ears back with 500m remaining. (Image credit: João Dias)

Tejay van Garderen crashed heavily on a downhill during stage 7 of Paris-Nice on Saturday but he got back on his bike afterward to assume his duty as an HTC-High Road team player defending Tony Martin's yellow jersey. Martin would go on to keep the jersey until the end of the "Race to the Sun", thanks in part to van Gareren.

"It was slippery and dangerous," Van Garderen said on the start line in Nice on Sunday, remembering the previous day's stage. "After the crash, I felt a little bit of a pain in my knee, but it's no problem. I can race today."

In the middle of Paris-Nice, Van Garderen had said HTC-Highroad's ambitions were for Martin and himself to make the final podium. "One of us, if not both us, has to make it," said van Garderen to Cyclingnews. But his personal aspirations vanished toward the end of stage 5, when the American sacrificed himself for his German teammate.

"Tony took the initiative to be the leader," Van Garderen said. "He put me on the front on the mountain stage." The 27km time trial scheduled the following day made Martin an obvious number one choice at HTC-Highroad. The German confirmed what everyone expected after his win at the Tour of Algarve.

However, Van Garderen, who is only in his second year pro, showed that he is a great stage race rider in the making as he took 10th place in the time trial. The 22-year-old, who finished third in the Dauphiné last year behind Jani Brajkovic and Alberto Contador, completed his first Paris-Nice in 31st position overall, but he might have done even better if he had not dedicated himself to Martin.

"Tejay rode himself into the ground," said directeur sportif Allan Peiper with admiration as soon as he got out of his car after the final stage wrapped up in Nice. "We've won lots of stage races before, but never one of this calibre," the Australian said.

HTC-Highroad rode most of Paris-Nice without Martin Velits, who had a bad crash on the second day, but the team remained tight and dedicated in its efforts.

Van Garderen's time to be the team captain will come at the Tour of California in May. He confirmed to Cyclingnews that this is his main goal for this year after taking part in the Volta a Pais Vasco, the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Whether he will make his Tour de France debut remains unknown as HTC-Highroad is likely to dedicate plenty of riders to Mark Cavendish's train and to helping Peter Velits for the GC. Between now and when Bob Stapleton announces his team's line-up for the Tour de France, many things can happen.

Marked as one of the next best likely American riders for the Grand Tours and with a contract up for renewal, van Garderen is rumoured as already being courted by many teams going forward.