Van Garderen takes a new path to kick off 2016 in Spain and Italy

Evenly numbered years tend to have been good ones for Tejay van Garderen. He’s had top five placings in the Tour de France in 2012 and 2014, interspersed with much more difficult ones in 2013 and 2015. In keeping with that trend, for now, the BMC Racing Team rider says he has certainly got off to the right foot in 2016. That’s even though he’s currently heading down a different route into the season.

Rather than make his usual (and successful) Middle Eastern or South American season debut of recent years, van Garderen has opted for a new series of races. He placed seventh in the Vuelta a Murcia over the weekend and going onto the weather-blasted Clásica Almeria on Sunday before heading onto a debut appearance at the Ruta del Sol for his first stage race of the year. Further down the line will come his first ever participation in Tirreno-Adriatico.

The 27-year-old’s previous memories of racing in Spain, and more specifically Murcia, are not so pleasant. He crashed out with a broken shoulder in the 2015 Vuelta a España on stage eight in the streets of that city - the same pile-up that saw Kris Boeckmans of Lotto-Soudal very seriously hurt. But talking to Cyclingnews after stage one of the Vuelta a Andalucia, van Garderen says, so far, he’s pleased with the new approach path he’s taking to the season.

“The crash was five months ago now, and the arm is healed, and everything’s good, I’ve been able to train well. I started to train a bit earlier than I normally would have because of the early off-season so I feel actually like I’m ahead of where I normally would be at this time of year.”

Part of the reason for not heading to Oman or San Luis to get the ball rolling is due to avoiding extra travel, van Garderen says. Part of it is that “the temperatures here are a little cooler so that keeps you in a good climate [when you’re] going into the other races that happen next in the WorldTour like Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico.

“Sometimes it’s a shock going into those [European] races, because whereas before you’ve been in stages [like in Oman last year] being cancelled because of extreme heat, you’re then going to stages [in Europe] being cancelled because of snow.”

So far, in any case, van Garderen is very satisfied with how it’s going with his ‘old-school’ approach to the early season, in an Andalucia peloton where he is crossing swords for the first time this year with regular stage racing rivals like Tinkoff’s Rafal Majka, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

“I did a good attack in Murcia over the last climb and was able to have a good showing there, and it was amazing we got the win with Phil [Gilbert]. It was a good team effort; everyone pitched in. So to have the first race back as a BMC victory, that is definitely special.

“Today [stage one of Andalucia] I had good sensations, and I’m looking forward to the end of the week where the GC racing really starts.”

Tirreno-Adriatico will be his next race, so “this is kind of a test for me. Hopefully, we pass. Then Tirreno is the next objective.” – It is also his first goal of the season, where he’ll be targeting the GC, in what will also be a debut for the American rider.

“I then do Catalunya [where he has won key mountain stages in the two previous years - ed.] then I take a little break before heading to Romandie.” In each case, he will be going for a top placing overall. “The schedule’s laid out so I can go for the races in each one I do, I get a good amount of rest and recuperation between them. We have a plan so that for every race we go to we have a goal.” With the Tour de France, once again, as the ultimate objective.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.