BMC’s Tejay van Garderen‘s palmares already includes some big results such as the best young rider jersey at the Tour de France, Paris-Nice, the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge but one thing has eluded him so far, a victory in a road race. That is until today at stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge.
“Last year at Tour of Utah was my first and only pro victory, and it was a time trial, so I didn’t have my hands in the air. Today was my first road stage win. I have been counting, and I have eight second-places in my career, and a lot of thirds and fourths.” van Garderen said.
Van Garderen attacked on the final tough climb to the finish at Crested Butte and only one man was able to jump on his wheel. A two-man sprint, uphill, at high altitude between van Garderen and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) would decide not only the stage win but who would wear the yellow jersey.
“I wasn’t going into the last 4 km thinking I was going to win, but I knew I was going to try. When I looked over my shoulder and I saw Christian Vande Velde on my wheel, I thought he was in a perfect position to outsprint me, but at this altitude, I think he may have had trouble with his acceleration.”
“It’s hard man, it’s really hard.” Vande Velde said of the finish. “Last year, I had to hold on to the fence for five minutes after the finish line, it wasn’t so far off today. It’s 9,500 feet, you really just can’t stop, your legs are burning. I was just hanging to Tejay’s wheel for dear life. I saw an opening and started for for it, he came right back and I had nothing to do.”
van Garderen was not only able to post up in victory but also high-fived fans on the side with a huge smile on his face.
Both riders had a relatively easy day on the 159.6-km stage that started in Aspen when early break that included BMC’s Mathias Frank and Garmin-Sharp’s Alex Howes and David Zabriske went off the front.
“Today was looking a bit like yesterday, it wasn’t 22 riders, but it was 12, and there were some big names up the road. It wasn’t a weak breakaway. We were lucky to have Frank in there, he’s a strong climber and GC rider, so that took the pressure off the team; it was up to the other teams to chase. They did a good job chasing, and we put some guys on the front with 20 km to go.” van Garderen explained.
The break shattered under attacks in the finale. Camilo Castiblanco (EPM-Une) was the first to attack but was caught and passed by Frank with 2 km to go. But the final kilometer was a flurry of action as the dwindling field was charging up but van Garderen with Vande Velde on his wheel came by everyone in the final 500 meters.
The young rider admits that he wasn’t sure if he should go for the win. “At first, I was thinking I don’t know if I want to go for it but the team kind of put pressure on me to do it by working so hard. I’m glad that I didn’t let them down.”
It’s not the first time that van Garderen has been in yellow at the race. Last year, he claimed it on stage 2 (in Aspen) but he surrendered it the next day on the time trial to eventual winner Levi Leipheimer. That fateful day, a crushed van Garderen, in tears, sat by the side of the road after the finish.
“I was motivated last year as well. I remember when Levi took the jersey off me last year…it was pretty emotional. I’m hoping to pull it off this year and maybe take the jersey home. I’m going to fight here for the victory.” van Garderen said at the opening press conference a few days ago.
He definitely has a fight on his hands. Though van Garderen leads the overall, the GC is very right. A total of 25 riders are within 30 seconds with Vande Velde tied on time.
Garmin-Sharp will continue to throw attack after attack. “We have a great team all around but we don’t have someone who’s really high level so we’re just throwing everything at them every day, making people work for it. It’s been a great race so far.” Vande Velde said. “We have to take day by day with all these races, I’m happy to be where I am at the same time as Tejay, he’s in spectacular form from the Tour de France and I’m not so far behind. I’m happy.”
“Christian certainly looks like he’s riding strong. He was good in Utah, and he looks even better here now. I think if I can hold him, and not let him get away, I can beat him in the time trial. I’m confident in saying that. But there are also guys like Ivan Rovny, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Homer, and there are two more summit finishes to go, as well as the Aspen stage, which is not easy. It’s far from over.” concluded van Garderen who added that he was confident in his strong team.