Tejay van Garderen is the hottest American cyclist on the pro tour. Last year he was named the “Best Young Rider” at the Tour de France after finishing the grueling race in 5th place, an award won by previous American racing legends Greg LeMond and Andy Hampsten. In 2011, he was the first American to ever wear the King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour, and he won the time trial that year at the Tour of Utah.
Noted to be a strong climber and a speedy time trial racer, van Garderen has been picked by several pundits to be a favorite for this year’s Tour de France. In May, he won his first ever stage race at the Tour of California, running 8 stages over 750 miles. While previous Tour de France champion Cadel Evans is on van Garderen’s BMC team, it will be exciting to watch how this talented young cyclist moves the American pro scene forward into the future. His BMC team will be racing in the Tour of Utah this year. He is originally from Bozeman, MT.
–Congrats on winning the Tour of California- how did the race go down for you?
Well, we won and that was the goal, so that was great. It’s always hard to win when you are one of the favorites because everyone is watching you. But the race was hard enough early on that we had some separation on the overall right away. And then on the stage to Avila Beach, crosswinds played havoc with the field and I got the leader’s jersey a bit earlier than expected. So we had to defend the lead for several days. That was the toughest part – but it was also where the strength of our team showed. The guys were really motivated to help and they were impressive on the climb up to Mt. Diablo.
-What are your goals- after finishing fifth last year- for this year’s Tour de France?
My focus is on the Tour de France this year and helping Cadel Evans win again. A lot of my preparation has focused on improving my time trialing and my climbing because those were two areas I was deficient in last year. As for reconnaissance, we always look over the key stages and I am headed to Europe for a team time trial camp. So we always come into the Tour as prepared as possible when it comes to knowing the key stages.
-What is your favorite race?
I really enjoy the American races; Colorado and California are two good ones – and the Tour of Utah, too, though I didn’t do it last year. That race will always be a bit special because I won a stage there on my birthday. And of course, there’s the Tour de France. It has so much attention and everything. But it’s always nice to race in America. It’s too bad there aren’t more big stage races or one day races in the U.S.
-How do the races in the US compare to the grand tours in Europe?
They’re the same in some ways and different in other ways. The big races are all organized by the same company (Medalist Sports), so in that way, they are like the races that the ASO or the RCS organize. They’re very professional and such. The crowds at the U.S. races are not as large as you see at some of the one-week stage races in Europe. But the USA Pro Challenge is one exception to that. Last year, when the race went past my house, the crowds were comparable to what you see on a Tour stage.
-What do you consider your biggest accomplishments in cycling?
Before the Amgen Tour of California, I would say my fifth place and the best young rider jersey at the Tour de France last year. But winning in California is definitely the highlight so far. I had been knocking at the door of winning a stage race a couple times and finally got it. Now I want to win another one. The race next week (Tour de Suisse) is another chance and I’m feeling very good about my chances.
-How does the Tour of Utah compare with other US races? International races?
It’s a very hard race, with lots of climbing. In that way, it compares to some of the difficult one-week races in Europe, like Paris-Nice, the Criterium du Dauphine or the Tour de Suisse. But it also has a bit of American style with the circuit race in Park City and, before it got UCI status, the criteriums.
-What are the differences between races in the US and Europe?
There’s not a whole lot of difference. It’s mainly what the competition is around you. When you’re in a World Tour race, you know you better bring your “A” game. There’s so much more on the line in those races. In the United States, it’s the competition of knowing all the Americans in the race want to do their best and show off on their home turf.
-Describe a typical day for you do during a multi-stage race.
It’s really the same routine every day. We’re usually up and eating at least two or three hours before the race starts. We always arrive between 75 and 90 minutes from the start. Then there’s pinning on your number, getting dressed and ready and signing in for the start. The race usually lasts between four and six hours. Then it’s back to the bus to shower and clean-up, the transfer to the hotel and massage and relaxation and recovery. We usually eat dinner between 7:30 and 8 o’clock and then rest in our rooms. The key is to stay off your feet. You want to conserve as much energy as possible.
-What are some of your goals for the future?
Every cyclist dreams of wearing the yellow jersey and standing on the podium in Paris. But realistically, for me, it’s a few years off. I want to do my best in the world’s biggest race, but I’m not going to be disappointed if I don’t win the Tour right away. I’m still young and there are a lot of races to be won.
-Funniest thing you’ve seen in the peloton?
That’s a good question. I’d really have to think about that. There are a lot of things that go on in the peloton, but in between paying attention and focusing on the racing, nothing immediately comes to mind.
–How do you prepare for the long racing season?
Does the season ever end? (Laughs) Sometimes it seems that way. We usually wrap up in September or early October with our team meetings, then its home for a few weeks off the bike. But it starts up again, usually in early November. And what you do in the months of November, December and January often dictate how your season will begin. For me this year, I did the Tour of San Luis in late January and got second. So that was a great way to start my season and prepare for the long-range goal of doing well at the Tour de France.
-What do you do to relax in the “off-season”?
Now that I have a new daughter, things will definitely be different this off-season. This past off-season wasn’t really much of a rest. I had a lot of things I wanted to improve upon and the months of November and December are the ones where improvements and gains are made. I focused on my climbing and improving my time trialing ability. So that meant going to a wind tunnel and also doing some good training rides at home.
-The Tour de France runs from June 29th to July 21st. The Tour of Utah will be contested from August 5th to 11th.