Citing the need for a fresh start and also hopes that he can rekindle his motivation in the sport, Tejay van Garderen has announced a move to EF Education First-Drapac for 2019. The American rider has been with the BMC Racing Team since 2012 and while that squad has found new backing and will thus continue next season, van Garderen is heading in a new direction.
“I think it was a necessary thing to do,” said the 29-year-old rider in a team announcement. “I’m definitely going to look back on my years on BMC positively. I’ve accomplished a lot with that team. But at a certain point sometimes you just need a fresh environment, fresh faces, some new ideas.
“I’m certainly not a young rider anymore, but I’m still way too young to be put out to pasture. I’ve had some good results, some ups and downs, and I’m still interested in exploring the capacity of what I have to give, however that translates. Whether it’s helping a teammate or grabbing results for myself. Whether it’s Grand Tours or one-week stage races. I still think there’s a lot more I can offer.”
Van Garderen turned heads as a neo-pro when he took fifth on a mountain stage in the 2010 Volta ao Algarve en route to ninth overall, then finished third overall in the Critérium du Dauphiné. Two years later he took fifth overall and the best young rider award in his second Tour de France, and he was also fifth in 2014. However his momentum has slowed and he is no longer regarded by many as a potential Grand Tour winner.
Despite that, EF Education First-Drapac CEO Jonathan Vaughters believes van Garderen has more to offer. “This is a new chapter. Maybe even a new book,” he said. “Tejay exhibited incredible potential in his younger years. He’s been riding under very high pressure for years as he was pegged as America’s next great cyclist. That’s been tough billing to live up to, and it would have been for anyone.”
He said that he knows the Washington rider for a long time and believes he can help him at this point in his career. “I worked with Tejay when he was a junior. I met him when he was 14 and had won the Cat. 3 race up [Colorado’s] Mt. Evans,” he continued. “I feel like he makes a lot of sense for this team. I think we can get the best out of him using an approach that gets him back to thinking about bike racing as fun as opposed to shouldering the weight of being the next great hope in American cycling.”
Indeed Vaughters’ team has history in helping riders reach a new phase in their careers. Ryder Hesjedal, Christian Vande Velde and current rider Rigoberto Uran all succeeded as more mature riders. Both Vaughters and van Garderen anticipate that the same might happen with the team’s latest signing.
“We’ve shown a long and successful history of taking underrated riders later in their careers and pulling out the best of them in the second half of their careers,” said Vaughters. “Hopefully we’re able to do that with Tejay, too, using a fun, grounded approach toward racing.”
Van Garderen has clocked up many strong rides, including overall victories in the Tour of California and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. He as also won stages in the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de Suisse and the Volta Catalunya. On Monday he won the prologue of the Tour of Utah and became the first race leader.
He hopes that more success will come with the new direction he is taking. “Especially now going into the post-30, or the second part of my career. You see that a lot — sometimes people come out hot early in their career, then have a bit of a lull, then they revive,” he said. “You see that a lot with Slipstream riders. I think a fresh environment can spark a motivation that you might not have known was there.
“There’s a lot of big personalities on the team. It’s fun to watch, it’s fun to spectate the team for that reason,” he said. “I think it’ll be good for me to put myself out there and have a little bit more fun with it.”
Van Garderen told CyclingTips earlier this year that he believes he still has a lot left in the tank. With EF Education First-Drapac, with a change of scenery and a new team, he and Vaughters will hope that the talent that brought those early results will flourish once again.