Rider Interview: Tejay van Garderen is entering his eighth year in the professional peloton and it could be said that at 26 years-old, that it is his most important. We caught up with Tejay at a recent BMC training camp in Spain to talk; Tour, Nibali, Lance, food and US cycling.
Cadel Evans will retire this year leaving the way clear for Tejay to take the BMC helm in the Tour de France, his rise up the team hierarchy has been steady and sure. This year we should find out how high he can climb the Tour ladder.
PEZ: What did you do over the winter?
I did a couple of Gran Fondo’s, Hincapie’s then Bookwalter’s. The rest of the time was at home in Aspen just hanging out, going on hikes with the dog and playing with my daughter, just relaxing.
PEZ: Has being a father changed you?
Definitely it changes things. You have to be more productive with your time, no more long coffee shop stops on the ride. It definitely gives you extra motivation, it’s not all about you any more, you’re riding for something bigger.
PEZ: What do you thing of this year’s Tour de France and what will you be aiming for?
I’ve taken a look at the parcours, it’s a good one and I do like it. I do think it’s a pity that there is no proper time trial. Christian Prudhomme (Tour de France organizer) was quoted saying that “the winner of the Tour should be the most complete rider” which is why he put in the stages in the Ardennes and the stage on the cobbles and the big mountains, which I agree with. The Tour de France winner should be a complete rider, but I think he’s missing one key element, to make it a truly complete rider who wins. But that being said I think there are plenty of chances that we can take time on some of those pure climbers. Some of those crosswind days, the cobble stones and having the team around me to help shepherd me through some of those hectic days, that can be an advantage to me.
We are the team time trial World champions, we are a strong Classics team for the cobble stones and in the cross winds of Utrecht I think we will be one of the strongest teams, so we definitely have plenty of chances to take.
PEZ: Do you thing the placing of the team time trial in the Tour de France (stage 9) will suit BMC?
I think it’s just fine for BMC, I think the concern is that after the hectic first week some teams are going to be down a few riders going into the team time trial just due to crashes or what ever other circumstance. You look at the past few Tours we’ve done and we have never finished with less than eight riders, all the guys on our team do a really good job of taking care of themselves in the first week and I expect to have everyone there.
PEZ: Have you looked at any specific stages that are going to be important?
I’ve only looked at them on paper, but we have a lot of recon set to happen in the coming months, then I’ll really be able to get a closer look at were we can take advantage.
PEZ: Do you think the time trials could make a difference in this year’s Tour?
They will certainly be decisive, especially in Utrecht where it can be really windy. If we get a stiff head wind that means we cold be out there for longer than 20 minutes. A real specialist compared to someone who isn’t so good against the clock could mean 45 seconds.
PEZ: Is it possible to lose the race that early?
If you crash or something then yeah, but I don’t think it’s going to be a make it or break it in the prologue.
PEZ: What did you think of Vincenzo Nibali in the Tour and his performance on the cobbles?
Nibali was certainly untouchable in last year’s Tour and sometimes that happens when you get the ball rolling, you see that in all sports, if someone has momentum it just keeps rolling and that was something that I felt like I was missing the whole season was that momentum and having that ball rolling and picking up speed. So yeah, I think he handled everything really well, I think that was because he took morale from everything going well, all it takes is one tip one way or the other and things can go the other way. Nibali is an incredible bike racer, the skills he has on a bike in all aspects is impressive. In a sport where things are so evenly matched, one slight tip in either direction or you can win the Tour or be sent home.
PEZ: This year’s Tour looks like it will have very strong competition with Nibali, Contador, Froome etc.
A lot of the pure climbers are pretty inspired by the Tour this year because of the lack of time trialing, you’re going to have the Quintanas back, Joaquim Rodriguez is coming back and then obviously the big three; Nibali, Froome and Contador. Like I said, last year I felt I was on the cusp of breaking through to being spoken about in the same breath as these guys, I just kept hitting road blocks. When things are really going well for me I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to mix in it with these guys.
PEZ: It’s going to be crazy with all these guys.
Ah! The Tour is always crazy. It’s unlike anything else, but that’s the thing you just have to view it like any other race.
PEZ: Do you know your build up to the Tour?
More or less, anything could change, but it’s a pretty typical build up. I will be doing Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which are races I have done in the past, but are races that have not been on my schedule for the past few years. Some other stage races, I start out with Oman and I do Paris-Nice and some Spanish stage races: Cataluña, Pays Basque and the Dauphine will be the final race.
PEZ: You were the BMC team leader at the Tour, what was that like?
To be the outright leader at the Tour, especially with the build up I had, it was a lot more stressful than I wanted it to be. In the spring I had some good results in some key races where I could take a lot of confidence from, like in Oman and in Cataluña, but there were so many bumps on the road on the way to the Tour that we all came to the Tour with a bog question mark. How’s Tejay and what’s he going to do? OK we will look after him but be prepared for things going wrong because with just having a hip fracture and a crash in Romandie and a bad Dauphine, tensions were high. But yeah it was definitely a great experience; it taught me a lot about leadership and how to use the leadership skills. With everyone kind of holding their breath and I was having to calm everyone down even though I was screaming on the inside. It was definitely a good experience and I’m hoping this year will be a smoother experience. Now that I have one under my belt, we can go and get the job done and we start ticking all the boxes.
PEZ: Do you think 2015 will be a difference without Cadel Evans soaking up some of the pressure?
I don’t think there will be too much difference; Cadel and I weren’t really on the same program last year. You could say he took pressure away because he took the attention at other races. I don’t know, when you line up at a race you don’t really think about what has happened the month before. I don’t expect it to be much different.
PEZ: Does the team work with you on leadership skills?
I’ve worked with a guy just on my own; a guy in Aspen called Tom Crum. He runs these programs called ‘The Magic of Skiing’ and he’s written some books. He was actually the guy who married Jessica and I. He’s been a really good guy to talk to. But yeah, a lot of it comes just from experience, it started out with some smaller races, leading the Tour of California and Colorado and then some WorldTour races and then I got to ease into the GC of the Tour by being Cadel’s right hand man. I ended up doing a good GC in 2012 kind of by accident, there was some time trialing miles and I was able to be Cadel’s last man in the mountains, so it kind of just by happenstance that I was up there. It was a natural progression and with experience it’s getting easier.
PEZ: Do you think you can better your two top five placings this year?
I think it’s possible. Last year I felt that I was on the cusp of a real break through and being one of the main riders, but things just kept getting in the way that just kind of stunted that a little. Getting sick before Paris-Nice and crashing in Romandie, it just felt like I really never reached that level that I was showing that I was capable of reaching. So if I have everything go smoothly, I think even last year I could have been a couple of places higher, this year I think will be the same.
PEZ: What are your feelings towards Lance Armstrong and the backlash that you have had?
I don’t know. I kind of expected to get it, but at the end of the day I just felt that it wasn’t really fair that we can go to George Hincapie’s Gran Fondo and Christian Vande Velde can be our commentator, we give interviews to Frankie Andreu, but Lance is the evil guy, I just don’t see how there can be that double standard. He lives a couple of blocks away from me; it wasn’t like I was trying to make some big statement when I got him to motor pace me. My normal motor pacer was out of town. He was a couple of blocks down the road and he has a Vespa and has some free time, so I just asked if he could spare an hour.
People can think what they want, the story is old enough now and I think with all the other riders in his similar position, he’s been punished enough. I don’t know… I’ll stop there.
PEZ: What about Andrew Talansky, what do you think about him and the other guys from the US?
I get along well with Andrew and I’m always happy to see other Americans doing well, it raises the bar for me and I feel I raise the bar for him, so we are competitive, but it’s a healthy competition and in the end it’s always good to see other Americans doing well as that can only mean our sport is getting stronger. I still think that we have not seen the best of Joe Dombrowski, I think that now he is over his injuries we will see a big year from him and I’m really curious to see Joey Roskoff this year and see how he’s going to be. The state of American cycling is doing really well.
PEZ: What is your favorite bad food?
I would say pizza is my weakness, pepperoni.
PEZ: Could this be why you have never ridden the Giro d’Italia?