Commentary: These were the 10 most important stories in US cycling in 2016

by Neal Rogers

December 22, 2016

7. Tejay van Garderen loses Tour leadership role at BMC Racing

by Neal Rogers

Tejay van Garderen’s stock as a Grand Tour contender rose considerably when he finished fifth overall at the 2012 Tour de France, the race’s best young rider. And though he finished fifth again in 2014, and was second to Chris Froome at the 2015 Criterium du Dauphine Libere, his stock began to drop soon after, when rumors emerged that his BMC Racing team would be signing Australian Richie Porte from Team Sky.

The 2015 Tour would prove to be van Garderen’s final opportunity to contend for the Tour podium as the sole GC leader at BMC, and though he rode well for two weeks, sitting third overall heading into the Alps, he abandoned after the second rest day, citing illness. A week later, the team announced that Porte would join in 2016.

Van Garderen and Porte began this year’s Tour as co-leaders. And when Porte lost 1:45 due to a puncture on Stage 2, it appeared van Garderen might spend the remainder of the race riding in a protected role. But the American had slowly slipped behind Porte on the classification when he imploded on Stage 17, tumbling down the general classification, from eighth overall to 17th. Van Garderen finished the Tour 29th overall; Porte finished in fifth place, and mathematically would have been second overall if not for his puncture.

Van Garderen headed to the Vuelta in an unknown role, and was unremarkable. He rode in defense of Darwin Atapuma’s GC lead during the first week, but by the time he abandoned on Stage 17 he was sitting 95th overall, three hours behind the leaders. He would later explain that he was overtrained coming into the Tour, and undertrained at the Vuelta, having taken time off between the two races.

The net result is that Porte will head to the 2017 Tour as BMC’s sole GC leader; van Garderen, who will focus on the Giro d’Italia, may or may not be at the Tour, a race where he made his name and has twice finished fifth overall.

“I’m not done being a Grand Tour leader,” van Garderen told CyclingTips last month. “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.’”