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Tejay van Garderen is a name you should know. The Boulder-based cyclist and BMC Racing Team member won the Tour of California and took second at the Tour de San Luis this year. A stage racer who can both climb and speed through time trials, he was awarded the “Best Young Rider” classification at the Tour de France in 2012, was second at last year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge, and he just turned 25.
Back in Colorado after last month’s Tour de France, Van Garderen is reaclimating to altitude and ramping up for this year’s USAPC. Van Garderen caught up with us exclusively about climbing Independence Pass, Colorado fans, doping and where American cycling is headed.
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5280: How does the USA Pro Challenge differ from other races you have and will compete in this year?
For starters, it’s in the state where I live, so it’s kind of a home race. That makes it nice because I know most of the climbs, it’s a race I’ve done before and done well in before. It’s also a race with a huge fan turnout, which is always great to have in America. Some of the crowds have been compared to those at the Tour de France and I’d have to agree.
5280: At the beginning of Stage 2, you will climb Independence Pass which is more than 12,000 ft. high. How do you prepare for that amount of climbing?
Having been at home in altitude helps, and I’ve been home since after the Tour [de France]. But at high elevations like that, it’s really the same for everyone. I don’t think anybody is going to be comfortable at that height and it’s been that way the past two years. Knowing that we have a high pass like that has a tendency to make the racing a bit cautious leading up to that pass.
5280: What do you think your favorite stage of the race will be? What do you expect to be the hardest?
I enjoy the entire race every year because it is such a nice race and it’s one where I have always had pretty good success. It’s hard to say what the hardest stage will be because it’s how everyone decides to race some of the harder ones on paper. Certainly, the uphill time trial in Vail will be the most decisive, I would think.
5280: Last year, you were second overall. How will your strategy differ going into this year’s race?
Last year, the race ended with a time trial. So it was every-man-for-himself, go-as-fast-as-you-can and the best man wins the race. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that guy. This year, the time trial, which is uphill, comes two days before the end of the race. So there’s still one more mountain stage and then the circuit race where there’s the possibility of the GC [general classification] changing.
5280: How do Colorado fans stack up against fans from other races?
They’re great. I’ve said it before: The fans in Colorado are the best around, especially because they are so knowledgeable about the sport. There’s a rich history of bike racing in the state, going back to the Coors Classic, and it’s carried through to this race. I think if you showed someone a picture of a start or finish and didn’t tell them it was Colorado, they might guess it would be at the Tour de France. The crowds are that big.
5280: You struggled with the heat over the Pyrenees Mountains during the Tour de France last month. How do you plan to combat Colorado’s sweltering August temperatures?
It wasn’t really the heat. I had crashed and was a bit banged up. And there were some other factors, too, that didn’t have me at my best. But I’ve been training the past couple weeks and it’s been pretty warm, plus the team is always making sure we’re well-hydrated and such. So I don’t think it will be a factor.
5280: Last year at the Tour de France, you won the Best Young Rider jersey. How do you live up to those expectations and how do you deal with the pressure?
When I was eligible for the best young rider jersey [racers must be under 25 to qualify], it wasn’t really something I was going for. It just came along with doing well while going for the team’s objectives–like last year at the Tour when I was helping Cadel [Evans]. At races like Paris-Nice where I also got the best young rider jersey, I was trying to win the race overall and it just happened that I was the best rider in the young rider category. Now that I’m out of it, it’s not a factor. And, really, all the pressure and expectations on me come from me and not from others or from what people say or how they think I’ll do.
5280: You’ve spoken out about doping in the past. How can cycling eliminate doping suspicions?
I think the sport can help stop some of the talk about doping by doing what it is doing now: testing. We get tested at the races. We get random testing, both at the races and while we’re at home. So, that’s a good thing. You’re never going to eliminate all doping. Unfortunately, there’s cheating going on in sports all the time and, really, in anything that’s competitive.
5280: Where do you see American professional cycling in five years?
I hope it’s thriving and doing better than ever. Races like we have now in California, Utah, and Colorado are great. But it would be nice to have more of them. Expanding a couple of them to two weeks would be nice, too.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock