Tejay van Garderen Interview: Young American cuts his teeth in the ProTour (Part 2)
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tejay van Garderen Interview: Young American cuts his teeth in the ProTour (Part 2)

by Steve Jones at 1:28 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Vuelta a España
 
This weekend's Vuelta marks his first start in a Grand Tour

Tejay van GarderenIn part one of our Interview with HTC-Columbia's Tejay van Garderen, VeloNation spoke to the 22 year old about the first half of his first season in the ProTour ranks.  For part two Tejay shares his experience at the Critérium du Dauphiné this past June, where he finished an unexpected third overall, one of the most striking performances by a young US rider in many years. He also discusses the upcoming Vuelta a España, which will mark his first Grand Tour participation.

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VeloNation:  HTC's team management looks to have been really careful with planning out your season and throttling how much racing you did.  You went into the Dauphine without any real pressure, other than maybe that it could earn you a ride in the Vuelta.  The first day of the race obviously went pretty well...how did you go into the prologue on a personal level, and how tough was it to sit in the hot seat with the best time?

Tejay van Garderen:  It was cool…for a second there I actually thought I was going to win, and it was just the very last rider to start that took it away from me. [laughs]  It was actually kind of funny because I thought I was going to have to go up to the podium for either the young rider jersey or for second place or for the points jersey or whatever.  I get there and they were like, ‘What are you doing here?’.  I was like, ‘I don’t know, young riders’ jersey, points jersey, second place?’  They said, ‘There is no best young rider jersey, you’ll get to wear the jersey for the points tomorrow, but there’s no podium for it.’  I was like, oh, okay – so, no podium for me then… [laughs]  That was a little bit of a letdown, but yeah it was super cool.  Getting beaten by [Alberto] Contador, that’s not a bad name to get beaten by, so I’ll take it!

VN:  So I guess that kind of set the tone for the rest of the race?

TvG:  Yeah, I mean my goal from the beginning of the year was actually California, so I was trying to come in there with good form, to race for the team, and do what I could for myself there.  Because of the incident where I gave [Michael] Rogers my wheel, even though I was still able to have a good race there, I was hoping for more of the position that Brajkovic/Horner were in.

Okay, Levi was their leader, but they were close on GC so that they could have extra cards to play and attack and force other people on the offensive.  That’s kind of the role that I wanted to have going into California.  Even though Rogers was our leader and he was in the yellow jersey, if I was sitting in third place or something that would make a lot of the other teams nervous.  That was the role I was going for.  With it being an American race and being the American, I wanted a good result there.  When that didn’t happen I was thinking, okay, you know that’s bike racing.  Sometimes that stuff happens.  I can either just say screw it, I didn’t get a result now it’s over, or I can take my chances at the Dauphine.  So after California I didn’t let myself relax or party or do anything or gain any weight.  I just said, ‘Okay, I’m going to train hard.  I’m going to go back to Europe and I’m going to do this.’  I was expecting maybe a top ten would be possible, but to get third place was a little bit surprising.

VN:  You had mentioned that you worked on your time trialing position and you did really well in the long time trial there as well.  Have you done anything to tweak it since then, or was the Dauphine confirmation that your were already where you wanted to be, so you haven’t touched it?

TvG:  I haven’t been to a track testing or wind tunnel yet this year.  Sebastian [Weber], the team trainer, showed up for the Dauphine and he was just asking me things like ‘What are you going to have in your bottle?’ and letting me know what should I look for on my SRM while I’m doing it so I could try to pace myself - how to do it [pace myself] on the course for that specific time trial.  For time trialing in general I wouldn’t say there’s been much tweaking involved with equipment or positioning or anything.  That’s mainly just me and my coach Jim Miller.  We have been doing specific workouts to try to work on it - other than that, no.

Tejay van GardernVN:  Take us to the last big day of the race.  You have a chance to podium in the Dauphine with Alpe d'Huez the only thing left standing in your way.  What was going through your head, what were your interactions with the directors?  You have a lot of experience on the team…

TvG:  Even that day there was still no pressure, they just told the team to look after me.  I had [Kanstantsin] Siutsou looking after me and they just said do what you can do.  They told me to have confidence, but don’t blow your head off if Contador starts going crazy – just stay in your own rhythm and do what you can.  So once Contador started attacking I just eased off and settled into my tempo and just thought that I would ride as hard as I can for as long as I can, and that’s what happened.

VN:  A couple of k’s from the top you lost contact with the leaders - Chris Horner decided to Sheppard you up to the finish line, what did you think about that?

TvG:  That was really cool, I mean to have an older experienced guy helping out the young guys it’s always nice.  He didn’t really have any reason to do that other than to help me out.  It was definitely a cool thing that he did.  I don’t know Horner that well, but I think by the time I’m his age and there’s some young American riding well I’ll try to help them out too.  I think it makes a big difference in the confidence and it was a really cool thing.  He’s a nice guy!

VN:  You recently rode your second big Classic in San Sebastián, how did that go?

TvG:  That was my first race after the Dauphine, so it was after a long break.  I felt pretty good and I finished it.  I didn’t finish super high, but I was happy with where my form was having it be my first race back.

VN:  The Vuelta a España will be your first ever Grand Tour.  You rode well recently at the Tour de l'Ain and finished fourth overall there.  Is your form where you want it to be going into the race?

TvG:  Oh for sure.  I did a few Italian one-day races and I was going really well.  The Tour de l’Ain was good - I know I haven’t raced much since the Dauphine, only a total of eight days, but I think that it’s good to come into it fresh with a lot of energy.  You don’t want to go into a Grand Tour tired.  There’s definitely room for improvement, so I think right now I’m set to hit really good form in the third week, and that’s usually the goal, I think.

I can say I think I’m ready, I can say I think I’ve done enough, or I think I haven’t done too much, but I don’t know…this is my first time, so time will tell and I guess we’ll find out soon enough.  This is just territory that I’ve never stepped in before so it will be interesting.

VN:  Recovery is one of the keys to doing well in stage racing, and you've proven you can ride very well in week-long races.  It's said that the body goes through a change after a rider completes their first Grand Tour.  What sort of expectations does the team have for you, and what expectations are you putting on yourself for the Vuelta – what is your absolute goal for the race?

Tejay van GarderenTvG:  I want to fight on GC.   I just don’t want to give anything away on the flat stages and just see how far I can go.  It’s the same as it’s been all year.  They’re [team management] not putting any pressure on me.  I don’t think they’re going to make me work on the front for 100k for [Mark] Cavendish or anything, but they’ll probably put me the leadout train with 10k to go.  That’s good for GC guys anyway, because it keeps them up at the front and out of trouble.  It doesn’t take too much energy to just do a couple of k’s [at the front].

Other than that I just want to try to fight in the mountains and in the time trial and just see how far I can go.  If I end up with a top fifteen or even a top ten that would be incredible.  But if there’s one day that I’m just completely screwed and I just can’t go anymore, then I’m just going to hop in the groupetto. I would then either work for Cav or try to jump in breaks or do whatever [the team wants], but on the start my goal is going to be GC, and just to not give anything away and see how far I can go.

VN:  Do you think having Cavendish in the race will take a lot of pressure off of the team or does it add more?

TvG:  Cavendish is just there to prepare for the worlds and the team has already won something like 55 races this year, so I don’t think there’s any pressure at all.  We’re bringing a young team – guys who just want to do something for themselves or just prepare for the worlds.  The team has already won two stages at the Giro and five at the Tour and we’ve won the Tour of California.  I think in this Vuelta there’s not going to be very much pressure because all of the results are already there.  Whatever happens in the Vuelta is just going to cap off what’s already been a successful season.  There isn’t going to be a big push to get results or to do well.  So having Cavendish there, it will be nice to get a couple of stage wins so we can get a bit of prize money, [laughs] and for him to get form and confidence going into the worlds.   Other than that I don’t think it’s a big sponsorship obligation or a big team goal, it will just be icing on what’s already been a successful season.

VN:  Once you finish up the Vuelta what do you have planned?

TvG:  I’ll do the worlds and then that’s it.

VN:  There are a bunch of young guys coming up, what do you think about the changing of the guard that is starting to happen?

TvG:  I haven’t gotten my first win yet, but it would be nice to get one at the Vuelta with a stage or something.  It’s cool to see a lot of these young guys that are so successful.  I think you have the top tier of those guys being Andy Schleck [Saxo Bank], Romain Krueziger [Liquigas] and Robert Gesink [Rabobank].  Underneath them I think you have Daniel Martin [Garmin-Transitions], Rein Taaramäe [Cofidis] and Tony Martin [HTC-Columbia].  I’d put myself in the second tier of riders, and it’s even a stretch to say I’m as good as those guys because they’ve actually won races.  I’ve gotten a few podiums, but I haven’t started to get to the top of the leader board yet…

A new generation of riders is coming in and people are already starting to follow them and they’re getting a fan base.  It will be cool to track everyone’s progression through their entire career.  Once all of the guys I’ve just mentioned are at their best it will be cool to see us all fighting for wins.

VN:  What advice would you give a young rider if they want to try to have a career in Europe?

TvG:  I’d say just be patient with it.  I mean it seems like everything has happened really fast for me, but it was a long time coming.  Two years with the junior program, a year with the U23 program, two years with Rabobank and now it’s finally to where I’m on a team.  I’d say some riders will have success and they’ll go straight into the ProTour having just done a year in Europe.  You’ll see that with a few kids that are even on Garmin right now.  They were riding with the U23 program in the States and then they went straight into the ProTour, and some of them I haven’t even heard about all year.  It wasn’t that they were bad riders, I think they just could have used another year of progression.

If I were to give advice to some young kid I think it would be just be patient and don’t rush it, and have a goal and stick to your goal.  Sometimes it doesn’t happen the first year, but give it another year.  Sometimes it will happen really fast and you just have to take a step back and say wait, my original goal was this, so I have to stick to this.  Just be confident in yourself and trust the people around you.

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