• Tejay van Garderen has extended his contract with BMC beyond 2016 (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Tejay van Garderen knows his biggest rival for a Tour de France podium spot really well. No, his name isn’t Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, or Vincenzo Nibali. And it’s not another talented climber like Thibaut Pinot or Joaquim Rodriguez, although those are good guesses.
By
Mary Topping

1 Jul 2015 - 10:00 AM 

So who most threatens van Garderen’s first pre-race GC podium goal in five years at the Tour? It’s him. He’ll have to ride smart when attacks fly in the mountains, keep his cool on the cobbles where he crashed twice last year, and avoid the hunger bonk that cost him a sizeable chunk of time in 2014.

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The American has already lost that personal battle once. It was 2013, his third time at the Grand Boucle and one year after pulling on the best young rider’s jersey in Paris. He finished 45th.

“I’d been in a couple of crashes. One day I felt pretty sick. When it got really hard, I was like, ‘Screw this.’ It ended up being the longest three weeks of my life,” the now 26 year-old said in an American televised Tour preview.

“So I told myself that I’m not going to do that again. No matter what happens, I’m not giving up.”

He remained true to that promise in 2014. Going into the Tour after recovering from a broken hip at the Tour of Romandie, he weathered multiple crashes, had a couple of bad days, and finished fifth overall for the second time.

Now his pre-Tour situation appears very promising, possibly the most auspicious since the cycling world pegged van Garderen as a GC rider after the 2012 fifth place result.

“All the vibes I’m getting for this Tour are really good,” van Garderen said in a teleconference last week. “Things are going very smoothly. I feel like I’m hitting perfect form at the right time. If we can avoid all the pitfalls of the first week, we might just have it figured out.”

In addition to preparation – such as studying which team-mate’s wheel to follow in different scenarios, he’s counting on multiple assets. The young GC contender will require all of them. This year’s route features five crushing summit and four shorter uphill finishes, and lacks a longish individual time trial where he excels.

Confidence and motivation rank high on the asset list.

This year he beat Contador for the win on a mountain-top finish in Stage 4 of the Volta a Catalunya. Froome saw his back at the line in the Critérium du Dauphiné’s Stage 5, which also ended in an ascent. The American’s climbing legs just seem to get better and better.

That may be due to improved power-to-weight ratio. Van Garderen weighs about a kilo less than when he started the Dauphiné. He also said during the pre-Tour teleconference that his 20 minute maximum power output in training measures 10 watts higher compared to last year.

Dennis in line for his second Tour stint
Rohan Dennis after only a brief time with BMC has all but officially been selected for its Tour de France team, and is looked at as a possible chance for the first yellow jersey of the race.

The entire team’s confidence should run high when the peloton departs from Utrecht on July 4, thanks to its team time trial prowess. Van Garderen will race with most of his team-mates – including Aussie Rohan Dennis – who sped to the world championship team time trial and also won the joint race against the clock at the Dauphiné.

However as team leader van Garderen will have to nurture morale even with a victory at the Tour’s Stage 9 TTT. The stage runs 28 kilometres, just 3.5km longer than the Dauphiné course which gained the squad four seconds over Nibali’s Astana and 90 seconds over Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo crew. Similar time margins likely won’t seal a podium berth given many opportunities to shed riders in the mountains.

Further confirmation of the chance to stand on a square of Champs-Élysées real estate arrived with his second place overall at the Dauphiné where he lost the yellow jersey on the final day.

“I feel like I’m getting closer and closer to the really big one,” he recently said. “The motivation hasn’t waned. It’s only getting bigger. The closer I get to the big result, the more motivation I have.”

Will all of that secure a top three? Nobody can answer that question, really. The Tour is a schizophrenic beast that toys with cycling’s highest levels of stress, suffering and glory.

But if the BMC Racing Team rider makes the most of his resources and previous hard-earned lessons, and stays healthy, he has as good a shot as any GC hopeful.