Crossing the line, wheeling to a halt and showing a satisfied smile, it was clear that Tejay van Garderen was very encouraged by his feelings on stage two of the Tour de France.
The American rider finished an excellent fifth in the Tour at 23 years of age, two years after he was third overall as a young rider in the Critérium du Dauphiné. Last year he won both the Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge.
The performances have led some, including triple Tour winner Greg LeMond, to predict a very bright future for the BMC Racing Team rider.
He was named as designated team leader for this year’s Tour but some wondered about his chances after he finished back in 13th in this year’s Dauphiné.
Van Garderen, too, may have had doubts, but finishing in the group of main favourites on Sunday’s second stage of the Tour gave him a big boost in morale and showed that he is on track.
“I feel good. I feel really good,” he smiled, clearly satisfied with his showing. He placed ninth, two seconds behind stage winner Vincenzo Nibali and level on time with main race favourites Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo).
“I know that I have good form. Like I said before the Dauphiné, I kind of had to get my ass kicked there to be in good shape here. I trained well, I am happy with where I am at.
“I think I showed it today,” he continued, “and I think I will show it all the way through to Paris.”
Van Garderen said that his legs were drained after the finish. The other riders will also have felt the same. The important thing is that he was able to respond when the big guns started firing, including an attack by Chris Froome on the final climb which he personally covered.
“It was attrition all day. Man, it was hard,” he said. “I am just happy to make it through with all my skin and on the same time.”
Riders such as Contador and Froome was close to the top of their game at the Dauphiné. Van Garderen was some way behind them, but appears to have made up ground in the weeks since then. Given his slower build to form, CyclingTips asked him if it gave him confidence that he could have more in reserve in the third week of the race.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I feel like I am going to get better every day. Today I felt really good and I can only go up from here, as long as I stay safe.”
Team owner Andy Rihs was also very happy with van Garderen’s showing. He also took considerable satisfaction from Greg Van Avermaet’s second on the stage and third place overall.
The Belgian is just two seconds behind Vincenzo Nibali and is a strong Classics rider. With a cobblestone stage coming up on day five, he and Rihs both will be focussed on chasing yellow.
“Maybe Greg Van Avermaet takes the jersey in the first week,” he said. “Who knows?”
Whether or not that happens, the team and van Garderen will remain concentrated on the bigger task. If his form is as good as he felt it was on stage two, his climbing ability and his time trial strength could lead to a very strong overall finish in Paris.