One of the soon-to-be-defunct HTC-Highroad team's biggest talents has already secured a new team, but Tejay Van Garderen is not going to reveal where he will land for the 2012 season until September 1.
"It's in my contract I can't say anything until September 1, they may not mind so much now that the team's folding, but I want to honor every part of my contract," he told Cyclingnews.
The 22-year-old made his professional debut with the Rabobank Continental team in 2008, but it was with HTC-Highroad, where he has raced for the past two seasons, that he came into his own as a rider.
"It's been an incredible experience," Van Garderen said. "They taught me how to be a good teammate, to give 100 per cent no matter what you're doing, whether it's for yourself or for someone else. I got to ride in support of Mick Rogers at the Tour of California, so that was an important GC win. I also got to ride in support of Cavendish, Greipel and other sprinters like Goss. Then I've also had chances for myself like California, the Dauphine and Algarve."
The net result was a string of top results: second in the time trial at Tour de Suisse, second overall to teammate Tony Martin at the Volta ao Algarve, fifth in the Tour of California and best young rider this season, and a third place in the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2010.
"I think I kind of had a break-out year last year. I had a lot of success that I wasn't really expecting - it kind of came as a surprise. This year I showed I can live up to last year, but I feel like my riding style is a bit different. Last year I was happy to follow wheels and just be there, and this year I want to get in the thick of it, so if someone attacks I want to be right on them instead of just staying in my rhythm and trying not to over-exert myself. I'm still learning how to handle myself in certain situations."
"I still had a successful year, but I'm in the learning process and trying to get to where I want to be."
Van Garderen has been tipped as a grand tour contender, not just for the future but as early as last year's Vuelta a España. But while Van Garderen still has that goal in his sights, he knows that it might take a few more Grand Tours to truly vie for the overall.
"I've shown I can go well on big climbs in the Dauphine last year and the Tour de Suisse and California this year. I've shown that I can be good in time trials in Suisse, California and other races, but doing that over three weeks? That takes a level of endurance that comes over time. So far I have finished two Grand Tours and I think maybe one or two more and I might be ready to contend."
Looking toward 2012 and beyond, Van Garderen said he might experiment with his off-season training in order to peak better for a specific goal.
"Normally I think I come into the season a little bit too strong, and maybe it would be smarter to come in a little less trained and use the races and training to build up toward the end goal. Every year it seems I am one of the strongest guys at team camp and coming into the first race, like at Algarve [in February this year] I was second overall, and then by the time Paris-Nice and Pais Vasco come around it's a little less. It's part of growing up and learning what to do as a bike racer."
In action in Utah and then Colorado
Currently holding the best young rider's jersey at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, Van Garderen found out how much experience matters in coming out of a grand tour on stage 1, when he lost 2:35 to RadioShack's Levi Leipheimer, Janez Brajkovic, who like Van Garderen had raced the Tour de France, as well as the race leader Sergio Henao, Oscar Sevilla and stage winner Jesse Anthony who hadn't.
"At the start of the race I was motivated for it: I wanted to go good in the prologue and I had a pretty good ride there, but then I felt a little off. Losing time to Levi, Brajkovic and Sevilla. They were just motoring on the flats where I was suffering in the heat."
"Maybe guys like Levi and Brajkovic who have done six, seven or ten grand tours can come out of [the Tour de France] a bit more fresh, whereas I'm kind of on my limit when I get to the end. I probably came out of the Tour more fatigued. Today didn't go great, but I'm hoping to get better throughout the week."
"I don't think I can win GC anymore having lost the time, but I want to take something away from this race that's a bit more than the best young rider's jersey - maybe a stage win."
He is also motivated for the next race, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which takes place in his home town in Colorado.
"I'll definitely go for the GC there. With the altitude and the fatigue from the Tour and after this race, I can't say how my form is going to be, I don't know, but I want to do everything I can. I think the course suits me, and it's in my hometown. I want to try to contend for the win there."
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