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by Neal Rogers
November 25, 2016
Photography by Kristof Ramon
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) will focus on the Giro d’Italia in 2017, with a return to the Tour de France uncertain.
The American rider, who has twice finished fifth at the Tour, has ceded Tour leadership within the team to Richie Porte. The Australian rider finished fifth at the Tour in 2016, and may well have finished second overall if not for a puncture on Stage 2 that cost him almost two minutes.
After hemorrhaging time on the summit finish at Finault-Emosson on Stage 17, Van Garderen tumbled down the general classification, from eighth overall to 17th; he finished 29th overall at the Tour. His Vuelta appearance was also subpar, and he abandoned on Stage 17 sitting 95th overall.
Van Garderen attributed those performances to being over prepared for the Tour de France, and then under prepared at the Vuelta.
Last week, BMC Racing performance manager Allan Peiper said he believes Porte can win the Tour, and that the Aussie would be the team’s sole leader in 2017. “We are building a team that focuses on [Porte], he is the only leader, and I think the most important thing which is critical is that Richie believes it – everything needs to go perfectly to win the Tour de France.”
Rather than ride as a superdomestique at the Tour, van Garderen told BMC Racing team management that he would like to continue as a Grand Tour leader. So, in May, he’ll race the Giro for the first time, rather than return to the Amgen Tour of California, which he won in 2013.
“At first I had no idea what I wanted to do, do I go back to the Tour in a support role for Richie, and try to win California again? The team was supportive, and said, ‘if you want to go try to win California, and come to the Tour for Richie, we’ll support that.’ I wanted to wait for the route announcements. I saw the Giro course, and I liked it.”
“I’m not done being a Grand Tour leader,” he continued. “I’ve done some good Tours in the past. I feel like I need to keep trying. The Giro will be a new experience. I asked the team to keep me in mind for the Tour. I could go and support Richie, and play a Plan B role on the GC, whatever the team wants. And I’ll be honest. If I come out of the Giro on my knees, I don’t want to go to the Tour and embarrass myself. If I come out of the Giro strong and healthy, I’ll be honest about that, and I’ll say, ‘put me in the Tour and I’ll do whatever role you want me to do.'”
Van Garderen lived in Lucca, Italy, during the early years of his career, and said the Giro is something he “always needed to do, at least once.” His lead up to the Giro will include the Tour of Oman, Tirreno-Adriatico, Volta Cyclista a Catalunya, and the Tour de Romandie.
Other GC riders who have stated the 2017 Giro d’Italia is an objective include Italians Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Fabio Aru (Astana), as well as Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk.
Frenchman Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), second overall at the Tour in July, has expressed interest, though his team management has stated it is leaning toward sending him to the Tour first, and then the Vuelta. Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange), second in May behind Nibali, is also considering a return the Giro in 2017.
Van Garderen’s palmares includes second overall at the 2015 Criterium du Dauphine, behind Chris Froome, as well as overall wins at the Amgen Tour of California and USA Pro Challenge. He has also won mountaintop stage finishes at two of the hardest weeklong stage races in the sport, the Volta Cyclista a Catalunya and the Tour de Suisse.
In a September interview with CyclingTips, van Garderen, 28, said he still believes he can ride as a Tour de France contender.
“I’m not scared of the Tour de France,” he said. “I’m not thinking I need a break, that I’ve had a couple of rough years, and that I need to recover from it. It’s not like that. Yes, I’ve had a rough couple of years, but I’m a professional athlete. People take hard hits, they get up, and they go forward. Do I want to do the Tour de France? Hell yeah, I want to. If the team doesn’t want me to, or if the Giro route is perfect for me, then okay, let’s do the Giro. But my long-term goal is to win the Tour de France, and I’m not going to stop trying.”
In 2017, van Garderen’s path back to being a Tour contender will run through Italy.