Twice fifth in the Tour de France, Tejay van Garderen leaped into the yellow jersey of its big preparation race, the Critérium du Dauphiné, on Thursday and said that his performance gave him a significant morale boost.
“I think everyone kind of wants to strut their stuff a little bit before July and I think I showed I am right up there with them,” he said, assessing his performance on day five of the race, the sawtoothed 161 kilometre mountain stage from Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup.
“Everyone has their different methods. You can never read too much into the Dauphiné as far as what their form is going to be in the Tour. But I definitely take some satisfaction and confidence out of today.”
Van Garderen has past history in the race; he showcased his talent here in 2010 at just 21 years of age, stunning many with third place overall.
He’s continued to build on his talent since, then winning the Tour of California in 2013 and taking the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in 2013 and again last year.
However it’s the three week races, and specifically the Tour, where many see his true talent as being. Past greats such as Greg LeMond highlighted their talent at a young age in the Dauphiné, and the big question after 2010 is if he could also perform in the Tour.
Fifth in 2012 at just 23 years of age marked him out as a possible future winner. And while he is yet to better that, finishing in the same position again last year, he might have been on the podium in Paris had he not made an error in his nutrition.
He was worried about putting on weight on the second rest day and didn’t eat enough, hitting a hunger flat the following day when the race started again.
Van Garderen acknowledged the error and won’t make the same mistake again. The experience gained plus his latest performance will help him believe that he can step up to the podium in July.
It’s hard not to be impressed with his showing on Thursday, both on a physical and also tactical level. Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r la Mondale) – who finished one place and two seconds behind van Garderen in last year’s Tour – soloed to victory, having got a gap before the final climb.
The 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Sky) attacked hard inside the final three kilometres, and initially got several seconds’ gap on the American rider.
However van Garderen remained patient, clawing his way back up to the chaser ahead of him, Benat Intxausti, and then dropping the Movistar rider inside the final kilometre. He put in a surge which carried him up to Froome, and then dropped the Briton before the line.
With last year’s Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali cracking on the final ascent, van Garderen beat the two most recent champions and gained an important boost in morale.
“At first, I did not want to follow him [Froome] out of fear I would go into the red,” he admitted. “So I kept him at a reasonable distance and stayed within myself. It looked like he kind of died at the end, so I was able to get the jump on him. It kind of surprised me. I thought he was going to start riding away.”
The showing continues what have been good performances by the American squad in the race. It won the stage three team time trial, putting Rohan Dennis into the Maillot Jaune for two days, and now maintains the lead via van Garderen.
It’s not the Tour de France, but he’s already in yellow in the run up to that race. That’s good enough for now.