• Check out dem guns... Tejay van Garderen nabs his first Grand Tour stage win at the Giro d'Italia. (Tim De Waele/ Getty Images)Source: Tim De Waele/ Getty Images
He's the rider Internet cycling trolls love to hate. Following his first Grand Tour stage win, Anthony Tan muses whether the lack of love for Tejay van Garderen is a thing of the past.
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Cycling Central
26 May 2017 - 4:43 PM  UPDATED 26 May 2017 - 11:30 PM

On Internet cycling forums, he often goes by the moniker Tejay van Crackeren or Tejay van Chokeren.

Since Levi Leipheimer retired in May 2013 following his admission to doping throughout much of his career, the then 24-year-old who spent most of his childhood in Bozeman, Montana was billed as American cycling's next big thing.

Not just the next big thing, but following the brouhaha with the US Anti-Doping Agency's Reasoned Decision and the fallout involving Lance Armstrong & Co., the cleanest thing since Greg LeMond, the last US rider to officially win the Tour de France, in 1990.

In a country of 320 million where bigger is always better, no pressure there.

His stage win Thursday was brilliant. What's wrong with that? Is there something so shameful admitting you're never going to win a Grand Tour, which few people ever realise, and will target stage wins instead?

Still, Tejay van Garderen appeared to be taking it all in his stride. Since finishing second overall to Romain Sicard at the 2009 Tour de l'Avenir, his trajectory suggested he was going to be a bona fide Grand Tour contender, if not winner, in years to come. In the 2011-12 seasons, he earned no less than five best young rider classifications that included the Tour of California, Paris-Nice, and yes, the Tour, where he finished fifth overall in 2012, the year Bradley Wiggins won, and the first British rider to do so.

In fact, at that point, the pundits and Twitterati were in love with Tejay and telling Cadel Evans, his team-mate at BMC Racing, that his time at the top was up; it was time for Cuddles to hand over the baton, they said. But in 2013 both bombed out as van Garderen and Evans finished 45th and 39th overall, respectively. Hopes in the American were rekindled the July following when, assuming outright leadership, he ran fifth again - but at 11'24 in arrears, it was a long, long, way behind that year's champion, Vincenzo Nibali. In reality, there was no discernable improvement in his performance to that of two years previous.

Still, this was an American rider on an American-registered team with an American general manager. Besides, they had no other options: Evans retired after his namesake race in February 2015, becoming an ambassador for the BMC brand afterwards; Andrew Talansky was the only other Stateside-born rider with GC potential in Grand Tours, yet his loyalty lay with Garmin-Sharp (now Cannondale-Drapac), the outfit he joined as a stagiaire back in 2010 and as a pro the following year, and where he still resides. So they stuck with van Garderen right till the 2016 Tour, but by then BMC sporting manager Allan Peiper had acquired the services of one Richie Porte, whose fifth place in Paris last July - 5'17 behind Chris Froome - was far more convincing than Tejay's top-fives ever were.

From 2015-16, TvG's Grand Tour results went like so: 2015 Tour - DNF; 2015 Vuelta - DNF; 2016 Tour - 29th; 2016 Vuelta - DNF.

Just when we thought his three-week race ambitions might take a backseat, BMC Racing hatched another plan, thereby offering another chance to The Beleaguered One: the centenary edition of the Giro d'Italia. The start was promising, where he lay 10th overall at the end of Week 1 - but then conceded 3'46 to Nairo Quintana atop Blockhaus (Stage 9) and the next day, 4'17 to current race leader Tom Dumoulin in the Montefalco time trial; supposedly, his strong point. The past week, however, as he forgot about GC and turned his attention to a stage win, van Garderen appeared calmer. Content, even. "My body wasn't responding earlier in the Giro. I did my best to keep the morale," he said.

At the end of the eighteenth leg, having traversed nearly 4,000 metres' climbing in 137 kilometres, his day came in Ortisei. "This is my first Grand Tour (stage) victory. It's an incredible feeling, especially in an area like this I'm so familiar with, having done many training camps here. I knew all the roads.

Van Garderen victorious as Giro contenders battle
While Tejay van Garderen took his first ever Grand Tour stage win by edging out fellow day-long breakaway member Mikel Landa at the finish in Ortisei, back down the road the battle for the overall race lead was brewing.

"I'm surprised it has taken this long in my career to come to the Giro and I'll certainly be back," van Garderen said of his tenth Grand Tour participation, adding: "I'm not giving up on riding Grand Tours for GC. Things might change in getting full support of the team. Maybe I can't climb with Quintana on top of the Blockhaus but I see myself as a similar rider to Dumoulin; I just need to avoid having bad days. It is good to know that I am still capable of doing a ride like that, and now I just have to put it all together into three weeks like I have done in the past, and like I know I can do again."

If history has shown anything, bad days are something he can't seem to miss.

To me, van Garderen's career is following a strangely similar path to Belgian cyclist Jurgen van den Broeck, who for nearly a decade had the hopes of his nation on his shoulders but never quite delivered. The now 34-year-old, who announced he would be retiring at the end of the year, rode for what is now Lotto-Soudal from 2007-15, with his best performances in Grand Tours coming at the 2010 and 2012 Tours de France, finishing third (after Alberto Contador and Denis Menchov's results were annulled) and fourth, respectively. However that was as good as things got, where he DNF'd in five out of his next seven Grand Tours. Like van Garderen, van den Broeck tried riding the Giro and Vuelta when the Tour failed to work out, and, like van Garderen, as far as GC was concerned, without success.

His stage win Thursday was brilliant. What's wrong with that? Is there something so shameful admitting you're never going to win a Grand Tour, which few people ever realise, and will target stage wins instead, as well as helping someone like Porte to realise something you were not able to achieve yourself?

The ridicule he receives on Internet forums and social media goes too far, and is often terribly mean and hurtful. But if he continues to think he's a Grand Tour contender, the sneering will not abate, only exacerbate. After so many chances, when neither rider or team accept reality, in many ways, they have only themselves to blame.

PS: By the way, if you actually believed Tom Dumoulin when he said the other day he was only "angry at himself" (read Tan Lines: Unwritten law no more), this is what he said Thursday of the way Nibali and Quintana rode to Ortisei: "In the end, they lost some significant time to the other competitors. Riding like this, I hope they'll lose their podium spot. If this happens in Milan it would be very nice and I would be very happy." No more Mr. Nice Guy.