Tejay van Garderen arrived in Sicily happy to have avoided the dangers of the opening three stages of the Giro d'Italia in Sardinia. He is relaxed and composed as ever but also focussed on Tuesday's first mountain finish on Mount Etna on Tuesday.
Van Garderen finished safely in the front group of overall contenders in Cagliari on Sunday thanks to some strong legs and protection in the crosswinds from his BMC teammates. He lost 13 seconds to Bob Jungels – who helped split the peloton with his Quick-Step Floors teammates, but van Garderen is well placed in the group of 26 riders that are 23 seconds back on race leader Fernando Gaviria.
The American saw up close that stage 3 could have been so very different. He travelled to Sicily on Sunday night with teammate Rohan Dennis, who was taken out of the overall classification in a late crash, losing 5:22 and any hope of a good overall result. Months of hard work and dedication were destroyed in an instant, and that is one example of the unpredictability of the Giro d'Italia.
"It's a pity about Rohan and what happened to him. But I think we made it off this island pretty well," van Garderen explained.
"It was a tough day along the coast. We knew the wind [section] was going to be nervous, we had earmarked the section in the meeting where it could split, and it definitely split there. But we were well prepared. We didn't lose time to any GC guys, other than Bob Jungels who got a few seconds."
Mount Etna looms large on the horizon
Van Garderen and his BMC teammates did a 60km rest day ride near Cefalu on the northern Sicilian coast on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday the peloton heads inland after 50km along the stunning coastline, with the smouldering peak of Mount Etna looming large on the horizon as a beacon to the first mountain finish of the 2017 Giro d'Italia.
"The rest day is important to wash out the travel (from Sardinia) and make sure we stay open for the important day," van Garderen told Cyclingnews, aware of the importance Mount Etna will have in the fight for the general classification at the Giro d'Italia.
BMC often holds altitude training camps on the slopes of Europe's most active volcano, staying at the hotel that sits on Tuesday's finish line. Everyone in the team knows the climb and van Garderen rode there last year.
"When it's a 15km summit finish, it's always going to be decisive in terms of time gaps and GC, so it'll be the first big test of the Giro, it comes early," he explained.
"We'll approach it pretty much the same way we approach any day. We've got to vigilant and we got to be up front. We've got to assess our rivals. The 15km to the finish will cause bigger gaps than in the wind. I'll try to be up there with the best of them. I know the road. I'll need to jog my memory a little bit when we get there but I know I've ridden it. It'll come back to me."
Van Garderen expects attacks and knows he will have to react and be at his best, citing simple but effective racing logic.
"If one guy decides to go, everyone has to go, I'm sure someone will go," he said.
Like many, van Garderen expects Nibali to be one of the riders keen to go on the attack.
"Nibali's going to be motivated because we're near his home. When Nibali goes, you have to go, you can't say, give him time and make it back later because you might not get that time back," he pointed out.
"Of course it's still early in the Giro, so I don't know if someone wants to take the pink [jersey] and try to defend it all the way to Milan. But there's going to be a separation on Etna. I think Nibali takes things day by day rather than long term. If he gets a chance of victory, he's going to take it."
In a good place
Despite two disappointing and difficult rides in the 2015 and 2016 Tours de France, van Garderen is confident that he has prepared well for the Giro d'Italia and that he can be up there with Nibali, Nairo Quintana and the other contenders for the final Giro d'Italia podium.
Van Garderen is understandably keeping his own hopes and dreams for the Giro d'Italia under wraps to avoid adding the weight of pressure to his climber's build, but he seems on a steady trajectory to great form for one of the decisive stages of the Giro 100.
He rode the Abu Dhabi Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta a Catalunya as early build-up, finishing fifth overall in the testing Spanish race. He fell on the first day of the rain-soaked Tour de Romandie but bounced back strongly and helped Richie Porte seal the win, before taking third in the final time trial in Lausanne.
Van Garderen is currently 27th on the pink-coloured printed Classifica Generale results, sandwiched between fellow overall contenders Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). He seems as ready as them for when the overall contenders rise to the top.
"I feel really good right now," he concluded with a relaxed-but-ready demeanour.
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