Having spent a couple years in Europe with the Navigators since moving across to Jelly Belly in 2008, Van Ulden doesn't encounter the WorldTour teams in many events, but he enjoys the high level of competition they bring to the race.
But on stage 3 he had a extra close encounter with one of the sport's top men, Jens Voigt of Leopard Trek.
"I nearly ran over Jens Voigt yesterday. That was actually me just barely tagging him," Van Ulden said of Voigt's crash on the circuit in Modesto. "He was 90 degrees in the air right in front of me and I thought it was all over. I have so far been pretty fortunate, but in the field that can all change in an instant."
The Jelly Belly team has brought a young squad to the Tour of California, with Van Ulden as the most experienced in racing against the sport's top men.
"I spent two years in Europe doing the Spring Classics with my previous team. It's still fun, I really enjoy the events and the level of competition," he said before stage 4.
"The novelty has worn off and I'm able to just concentrate on the racing and wanting to try to perform, but you also know that when the world champion is riding by, or Goss, Bernhard Eisel or the tour leader, you have to give them respect and room to move around and do what they have to do."
He and his teammates have been focusing on entering into breakaways early in the stages as their best chance for success on the stage. On this stage, which passed over Mt. Hamilton en route to the finishing climb on Sierra Road, Van Ulden said the best way to have a good result is to get a head start.
"We are definitely trying to go for the breakaway. There will be at least 50-60 guys coming into the base of Sierra Road, and there will be an explosion in the first 500m of that climb.
"If you're in the breakaway, and you're still off the front at the climb, you might be able to hang on for dear life when the leaders come by. You can definitely hang onto the second group."
He ultimately ended up in the 'gruppetto', which came in 24:43 down on stage winner Chris Horner (RadioShack).
"We've had two downhill days, so it's really weird to go from that kind of riding to this, so we'll see. I felt a lot better yesterday than the first day. I think whole field was shut down on the first day. I'm really happy with how I rode yesterday, I made all the front selections."
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