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Fifth in 2012 and looking set for fifth again this time round, Tejay van Garderen has said he believes he is a much stronger rider than two years ago and that he feels overall victory in the Tour de France is a realistic target to aim for during his career.
“I feel like I have grown a lot as a rider,” he said, when asked to compare the two fifth places. “I think the course in 2012 suited me much better than this course. This year I definitely had my share of bad luck and misfortune. I was able to fight through it, so I am really, really proud of me and my team and what we did.”
Van Garderen started the stage 20 time trial sixth overall but put in a very strong effort to net sixth on the stage and to overtake French rider Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) by two seconds.
The latter had started the stage two minutes and seven seconds ahead of him, and was slower in the race against the clock. However the loss of his fifth place overall was also due to the puncture he suffered during the time trial. Van Garderen acknowledged this when assessing his move up the rankings.
“I saw that Bardet had a mechanical out there so I feel pretty bad for him,” he said. “But I think everyone throughout this Tour has had their share of bad luck. I guess it comes with the territory.
“He is such a young talented rider and I think we are going to have some big battles in the future. I look forward to it.”
Van Garderen’s own moment of misfortune was not a mechanical issue, but rather a biomechanical one. He suffered a bad day on Tuesday, losing 3 minutes 37 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Jean Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). He also gave up 1 minute 46 seconds to Bardet.
He said afterwards that the problem was due to not eating enough on the rest day. Had he not lost that time to Nibali and the other three contenders, and had the time gaps on subsequent stages been the same – admittedly a theoretical consideration – he would have been sitting third overall after the time trial.
He would be forgiven for mulling over this point, but said that he didn’t intend doing so. “I look back at it so I can learn for the future, but I am more happy that we were able to fight on and to just have a good ride,” he said.
When van Garderen took fifth in 2012, he did so after starting the race as the second protected rider behind Cadel Evans. The Australia shouldered the burden of the pressure, particularly as he was the defending champion, and van Garderen benefitted from not having that stress on his shoulders.
This time round, things were different. Evans did the Giro instead of the Tour, and the BMC Racing Team said that it would give full leadership to the young American. He consequently had the compete responsibility as the number one rider.
He was asked after the time trial how he handled that kind of pressure. “You just learn to keep the people close to you close to you,” van Garderen explained. “And you take comfort in that in your group of people and you can shunt out any negative energy.
“It is not really anything. Over three weeks, you are so tired that the pressure…all that is just a made up thing. You learn to deal with it.”
Van Garderen has looked comfortable with leadership in the race. He clearly believes in himself and his abilities, even if that bad day did temporarily knock his confidence. The question is, how far does he believe he can go in the sport?
His answer shows what his clear focus is as a pro bike rider. “I turn 26 next month so I still have ten years to try to win it one day,” he said.
Looking at how he rode for much of this Tour, it is unlikely to take that long. Much can happen in the future, of course, but he very much looked like a future Tour winner at times during the race.