BMC sports director Jackson Stewart believes the flat 34.4km circuit around San Jose is more likely to decide the general classification than Friday’s penultimate mountain stage to South Lake Tahoe.
Van Garderen trails Bernal (Sky) by a minute after three stages, a deficit that the American may be able to peg back if everything on the course, which Stewart lives near, goes to plan.
“One hundred per cent everything is on this time trial,” he said. “I think if everyone plays their cards right on the penultimate stage we can limit some losses.”
BMC was assertive on Monday’s first mountain test to Gibraltar Rd, which Bernal won to take the leader’s jersey.
The outfit had set such a tempo leading into the climb that Bernal was concerned of what may have been in its arsenal but ultimately wasn’t matched with van Garderen finishing in the mix behind the solo victor.
“We knew the level of climbers that are here and we knew how difficult Gibraltar was. He was hoping he could contest the stage but he also knew of the form Bernal had in Romandie, and he was calculating limiting his losses if he got in that position. He wanted to limit his losses. The magic number was actually a minute,” Stewart said.
“He’s really motivated for the time trial thinking that if he hits all his marks and he does everything right that he could bring that back substantially. That’s his objective.”
Van Garderen’s campaign may depend on the performance of Bernal, who has everyone on notice and guessing at the same time.
The 21-year-old rookie pro sensation is a Colombian national time trial champion. He beat Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing) to win the uphill stage three ITT at the Tour of Romandie. However, neither of those, even by his own admission, provide much of a measuring stick here.
“We don’t know how good Bernal really is,” Stewart said. “Nobody has a real evaluation of his flat, long time trial. We know Tejay’s is really good. If Tejay can focus on just doing his best I think we can come back quite a bit, at least move onto the podium.”
Bernal finished fifth and safely with the reduced main group on stage three to Laguna Seca to retain the leader’s jersey on Tuesday. Speaking at a post-stage press conference, he was genuine about his outlook on the next challenge.
“Tomorrow will be a real test,” Bernal said. “It is a long time trial and, for me, it will be difficult to be with the guys from the GC. I don’t want to think about tomorrow yet. For sure, I will do my best but I don’t know if I can keep the GC jersey.”