Rider Interview: Tejay van Garderen has been the nearly man in the Tour de France with two 5th places in the last four years. This year he will be part of a two pronged BMC attack with new signing, Richie Porte by his side. We caught up with Tejay to get the lowdown on his plans for the coming season.
Van Garderen is now 27 years-old and should now be in some of his best years as a bike rider. From being the top US junior rider to battling it out in the Tour de l’Avenir (2nd in 2008) he joined the HTC team and started to build a solid professional career. At BMC he showed his strengths and stepped into the shoes of 2011 Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans, but luck has not always been on his side, including 2015.
How do you sum up your 2015 season?
Tejay van Garderen: I don’t reflect much, I just try to look forward and try to have a successful 2016. It seems like the last couple of years, I won’t really say I’ve ever had a bad season, but there have been bad periods. Certainly everyone will agree that I haven’t ridden to my full potential. So I don’t really look backwards, but looking forward I just want to try to ride at my full potential. There have been times when I have ridden to my full potential, like the Dauphine last year, I won’t say it was a perfect race, like tactically, there was that one stage where I was really isolated from the team. They were just going bananas and I lost the jersey. As far as my form and what I could have done, with all the circumstances, I think I rode 100% there. It just seems that it has been hard for me to have those kind of races where if I usually show up with good form I should always ride to my full potential, but sometimes things just get in my way. So in 2016, in every race I target I want to ride to the maximum of my ability.
Did you ever work out what was the problem at the Tour?
Yeah, I got sick. There is not much more I can say. It started as a respiratory infection coming out of Plateau de Beille, it just kind of lingered around, I got on some antibiotics and I thought I could nip it in the bud, clear it up by the rest day. I came down with a fever and a little bit of intestinal problems, but then I woke up on race day and I felt okay, so I thought I should be all right if I have a good breakfast and take in the calories, I should be fine, but when I got out there, the body just shut off. It was the result of running a fever, even if your head feels better, your body kind of locks up.
It wasn’t a good feeling. At the time I felt worse for the team. Everyone could see on TV that the team was firing on all cylinders, on every nervous moment or hectic stage we were the first wheel onto the section of cobbles, or first wheel into the cross-wind. On stage two we had six guys in that split, that was incredible. They were just working on the front, just slaving away, day in and day out and then for it all to come down like that I think it left all the guys a little bit diffused. So I definitely felt worse for them at the time.
In the Dauphine, before, I definitely felt incredible and throughout the Tour I felt incredible, I think I reached a new level and discovered more where my limits are, which were higher than they had been before. So if I had been able to continue in that way I probably could have held that position I was in, but when you get into that third week, that’s the thing when you are running on that razor thin edge you can always say “if I could have kept it, I could have been third.” But then because I was on that edge is probably why I got sick.
What difference do you think Richie Porte will make in the team?
It will definitely give us another card to play, we have split up the roster a little for the start of the year. Richie rode Down Under and I will have a later start with some Spanish races and he is going to Paris-Nice and I’ll do Tirreno. Then we kind of link up in April, end of March and do Catalunya together, we do the Romandie together, we do Dauphine together and then the Tour together. We will get a good chance to get our own results on our own and then see how we can integrate that together. Certainly a lot of other teams are going to be nervous when they see a roster with both me and Richie’s name on it. I remember racing against Richie and Geraint Thomas last year in Paris-Nice, it was almost impossible to race against those two. Thomas went up the road and Richie was on my wheel and I would bridge across and then Richie would go, you just can’t deal with both of them. So now it’s going to be more fun to be a part of that where Richie and I can play a similar game.
So there will be two leaders at the Tour?
Was it something you were happy about when you heard Porte was joining the team?
I really like Richie, I’ve always got along with Richie really well. Like I said it’s going to be fun to be able to play the game I was just saying, instead of just being one guy up there, now we have two to play off each other, the way ‘G’ and Richie did in Paris-Nice when I was on the receiving end of it, which is less fun. It shoulders some of the burden of the pressure, like I was saying about my teammates when I had to drop out of the Tour, now Richie can carry half the load, so it’s not like all is lost if something happens to one of us and the team always puts a big emphasis on WorldTour points and the biggest way to score those points is in stage races. It’s only 7 points to win a stage, it’s 100 points to win overall, so you are better off getting 9th place overall than winning a stage. To me it’s kind of silly how the system is set up that way, but GC is the way to score points. So to have two GC guys, that puts the team in a really good position to score some points for the team, which is a good way to make the team happy and put us up there and to show the team’s level.
For BMC the WorldTour points are so important?
Yes, the team makes that a goal to finish in the top three of the WorldTour ranking. That means in all those WorldTour events, like Tirreno, Paris-Nice, Catalunya, they are definitely races we have to target and bring our A game and make sure we perform. Like I said, it takes a bit of the pressure away from me, coz if we have some other guy racking in a bunch of points, then I don’t need to be as stressed about; if one race goes bad, it’s not the end of the World.
Will you ride the Olympics after the Tour?
The selection hasn’t been made for the US. Of course the Olympics, next to the Tour de France, the biggest, I don’t know where it ranks, but it’s a great honor to do the Olympics. Yeah, absolutely I want to do the Olympics. There is only one spot for the TT and I think only two for the road race, I don’t know exactly, but I think it’s just two. So it’s going to be hard to make the selection. I think at the very least I should be getting one of the spots for the road race and it would be cool to go.
Have you looked at the course?
I haven’t looked closely at the course, just the profile. I saw in the off season a lot of people were making trips down to Rio, I stayed at home, but I saw the profile and I’ve read some summaries on it. It’s sounds like a really hard course, a good climbers course, so it should be, more or less, suited to my abilities.
Most people I’ve spoken to say that riding the Tour is very important for preparation for the Olympics.
Yeah, I would agree with that. I mean, you look at San Sebastian for instance, the past however many winners of that race has always come from the Tour. You look at just about every Olympics, if you just keep that form rolling from the Tour, you’re not going to be able to train as hard, go as deep, in training as you would riding the Tour de France.
Who would be the other US rider at the Olympics?
I don’t know what the selection is, but I think Phinney has met the criteria for riding the time trial, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. I’ve been hearing that Phinney is in for the time trial and we only can enter two riders and one of them must ride the TT, so whoever rides the time trial would ride the road race. So, I guess it would be him and myself. I don’t know if that’s true, maybe there will be someone else, but in the end it would be fun to go to the Olympics with Taylor. We’d have a good time and have a lot laughs.
Will you ride Liege or all of the Ardennes Classics?
For now, no, because I’m doing Romandie. I was thinking; we have an altitude camp right before Romandie and so I was thinking of having the one hit out at Liege, rather than doing the whole week, the problem you run into there is that you only have one day between Liege and the start of Romandie, so that can leave you a little bit flat sometimes, specially if there is a prologue you need to be sharp and fresh. I’m still debating Liege, but right now it’s not on my program.
Where will you do your altitude camps?
I don’t know if it has been entirely confirmed, but the plan is we are going to go to Etna, I go to Tenerife in early February and then before Romandie we go to Etna and then we have a pre-Tour altitude camp, but the location hasn’t been confirmed where yet.
How long do you spend at altitude?
I’ll be in Tenerife for about 10 days and the Etna camp, it’s usually around two weeks at a time that we would go.
Does training at altitude suit you?
Yeah I think I get a good benefit from it, I live in Aspen, so….
Why not just go home?
That’s what I’ve done in the past. We’re doing it a little bit differently this year, usually in May I would go home to Aspen and just train there, but this year I’m doing it a bit differently being with the team.
The hotel in Tenerife is a bit remote, there is no wi-fi or anything.
It’s pretty secluded I hear, I’ve never been, but it will be interesting to check it out. I hear the training is amazing but the living there is kind of boring, but sometimes boring is what you need. You got to get everything into place, the training, the altitude, the racing, you got to have good luck throughout the year and try to find those little ‘one percenters’ and show up ready to go.
Jim Ochowicz said the team were going for victory in the Tour, not just podium. Is that realistic for you and Richie to say that?
You gotta aim for… you gotta shoot for the best. If you already go in with the goal thats less than the victory, then you already have that in your mind that maybe you’re not good enough, so you have to put it out there that; ‘you know what, maybe we are good enough to do this, why not.’ Crazier things have happened.
***Tejay van Garderen is at the moment riding the Ruta del Sol.***