American Tour de France contender Tejay van Garderen has said that he intends being close to his top form in this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné, choosing to go into that Tour de France warm-up event aiming for the best possible result rather than holding back for the Tour.

The BMC Racing Team rider spoke Tuesday to a small number of media via teleconference, talking about his build-up to what will be his first Tour de France as sole team leader, and said that he is not worried about peaking too soon in the earlier event.

While some riders in the past have suffered in the Tour after being in winning form in the Dauphiné, van Garderen believes that he has the best approach for himself and that it will ensure he is good in both races.

“Obviously you want to be at your absolute best at the Tour de France. I have trained hard and I have worked well and I feel I am in a pretty good condition to do a good Dauphiné,” he said, when asked by CyclingTips if he would rather be at 90 percent or 100 percent for the shorter race.

“I feel it is always easier to come in hot and then pull back a little than it is to come in a little bit sluggish and then try to make up that work afterwards.

“Sometimes with make-up work you leave it a little too late and there is not enough time. So I feel like it is best to keep the condition high and you make these little tweaks. It is not a question of being at 90 percent compared to 100 percent, it is maybe a question of 97 percent compared to 100 percent.”

Two years ago van Garderen finished fifth in what was his second-ever Tour, showing that he was capable of taking over from then-leader Cadel Evans when the team decided it was time. While things didn’t go to plan for him in last year’s race, with second at l’Alpe d’Huez being his only consolation after an otherwise difficult campaign, he bounced back to win a stage plus the overall in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

This year has brought more good results, with his performances including second overall in the Tour of Oman, a stage plus third overall in the Volta a Catalunya and sixth in the Volta al Pais Vasco.

However there have also been frustrations, with illness forcing him out of Paris-Nice on stage one and a crash injury putting him out of the Tour de Romandie on day three.

He hasn’t raced since then but told journalists today that he believes he is in strong shape and that he is ready to challenge for a high placing – or possibly even the victory – in the French event, which begins on Sunday.

“After Romandie I headed back to the States to my home in Aspen, to what is a good place for altitude training,” he stated. “I took a few days to recover from the hip injury – I wanted to just get that all cleared up before I really started training. From there I started doing some base miles towards the end, ratcheting up the intensity.

“Last week I met up with some team-mates, few back to Europe and checked out a few of the Tour mountain stages. Now I am just back at my home in Nice getting ready for the Dauphiné.”

Van Garderen points out that the last stage race he completed was the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in mid-April, noting that it is a long time ago. However that doesn’t dampen his ambition for the Critérium du Dauphiné, a race he finished a superb third overall in at just 21 years of age.

“I am not going to go to the Dauphiné with expectations to just win it easily or anything like that, especially considering the competition,” he said. “But you know we just want to treat it as a dress rehearsal for the Tour de France. I will be definitely be going for as high a GC position as possible, try to test my limits a little bit and test out the team, make sure we are all working well together. To just do the best I can.”

In the interview below van Garderen answers questions on a number of topics, including his reconnaissance of the Tour de France stages, his thoughts on and ambitions for the tricky cobblestone stage to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, his developing abilities as a climber, the likely BMC Racing Team lineup for the Tour de France, friend and team-mate Taylor Phinney’s bad crash, Cadel Evans’ next move after a difficult Giro, plus a range of other subjects.

He also makes clear that he has the self-belief to challenge riders such as Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) in the biggest bike race of them all.

“I am definitely confident in my ability to be a Tour de France contender,” he said, making clear that his 2013 experience hasn’t put him off. “Last year things just started falling apart. I didn’t have any trouble all season, I was always on the podium at every race I did and then all of a sudden everything unravelled at the Tour. It was the worst time to have that happen.

“But you just have to put that behind you and move forward and use it as motivation, which I was able to do. I bounced back pretty well with the win in Colorado in front of the home crowd. That was definitely a special event and a special moment for me…”

Read on for van Garderen’s response to a range of questions.
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Q: You are saying you haven’t raced in a while. I wanted to know how good you are on the back of training as opposed to race days?

Tejay van Garderen: Typically, I train pretty well and I can simulate racing pretty well in training. If you look at my season, the Tour of Oman was my first race and I started out pretty well there. I didn’t race at all because as I had to miss Paris-Nice due to illness, so there was also a big chunk of time before my next race, Catalunya. It was also another good result.

I think typically good blocks of training and good quality training, I can usually get the job done.

Q: You talked about reccying the mountain stages. I am wondering about the pavé stage in Northern France. You have been on record before saying that you wouldn’t consider doing Paris-Roubaix, and you had a rude awakening at your first Het Nieuwsblad. I am wondering how you feel about that stage and if you are planning on doing any recon for it?

TvG: I did do some recon of that stage back in April. It is definitely a tough stage that is going to cause a lot of carnage. There is going to be a lot of nervous riders before that race.

You know, I am feeling confident for it. I have a different goal than if I was lining up on Paris Roubaix. On Paris-Roubaix you basically try to cross the line first, whereas my goal on that stage is going to be to not to lose any time.

I am not necessarily racing against Tom Boonen or Fabian Cancellara, I am still racing against Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. I would say my chances on a stage like that are not any worse than theirs. And perhaps even better, since we have such a strong Classics team. We are bringing Greg Van Avermaet who was second in Flanders, Mickey Schär and Marcus Burghardt, who have raced plenty of Paris-Roubaix.

I think they will be keen to protect me and get me in a good position through that day.

Q: You had a really great stage win at the Volta a Catalunya and it was terrible conditions. How important was it for your own confidence and the confidence of your team around you that you were able to win that stage ahead of Contador, Froome and Rodriguez?

TvG: I think that stage was a big confidence boost for me and the team. I have shown that I can fight hard in the mountains and I have a good time trial to back it up. But it was always me being on the tail end of things, trying not to lose time, and then making my move in the TT to really go for the knockout punch.

Now that they have seen that I can climb with those guys also, that shows that shows I have progressed as a rider and I am more of a complete rider. I think that bodes well for the confidence that the team is going to have working for me in July.

Q: Speaking of your team in July in the Tour, can you comment on who you think will be playing pivotal support roles for you there?

TvG: Well, the complete team hasn’t been named yet but barring injury or illness, there are a few guys I am pretty sure will be there. They are the guys I have mentioned on the Classics side, being Mickey Schär, Greg Van Avermaet and Markus Burghardt. Those guys will be key players for the flat stages, and even Mickey Schär for some of the mountain stages. That guy can do it all.

As far as the mountain climbers go, as I said we are still in the process of picking the team and probably a lot more will be known after the Dauphiné. But certainly Peter Velits is a key guy for the mountains.

Q: Have you had a lot of say in the team selection, and do you see a place for guys like Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert?

TvG: I have a little bit of say, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the directors and the management for picking the team. Certainly guys like Hushovd and Gilbert would have a place on the team but it is a matter of whether or not they want to do it, or if they want to focus on their own goals.

From my understanding Gilbert is more keen to do the Vuelta as preparation for the worlds rather than doing the Tour.

I am not sure about Thor but another example of a guy who I am pretty sure is going to the Tour is Greg Van Avermaet. He fits that mould too of a guy who can win some races and who is a leader in his own right.

Q: You mentioned Contador and Froome in relation to the cobbled stage. Is there one in particular of those who you consider to being a likely bigger rival? In addition to that, are there other guys who stand out to you as GC contenders?

TvG: Obviously Froome is the number one guy, being the defending Tour champion. Contador has had a stellar season, he as barely lost any race he has started so far this year. So they are the two five star favourites.

Behind them we have a lot of guys like Nibali, Molema from Belkin. It is not sure whether Joaquim Rodrigeuz is going to take part in the Tour but if he is there, it is certainly a good course for them.

I know I am missing a lot of guys right now but there’s certainly no lack of competition in this Tour…

Q: It has been a pretty topsy-turvy season with podium finishes and illness and crashes. I’d like to know what are your expectations for Tour de France?

TvG: I have kind of put the spring behind me. I have had some good results that I am proud of and a couple of races that didn’t go so well. But I think you look at everyone’s spring and they always have a little bit of ups and downs.

But really, it is kind of like two separate seasons. You have the spring and then you have the buildup to the Tour which takes you through the end of the season. So I don’t think any of those setbacks of this spring are really going to have any effect on how the Tour de France is going to be raced.

I think the bottom line is you can come back just about anything if you put in the work during the winter. You saw that from Oman – I had a good winter so I was able to have a good race. Things then kind of went a little south for Paris-Nice but since I had the solid base and I had done the work already, I was able to come right back up for Catalunya and hold that through Pays Basque.

So the solid foundation is done. It is just a matter of not having any bad luck.
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Q: Can you talk about confidence? You were fifth overall in 2012. You had a great ride in Alpe d’Huez, came up a little short. Can you take us back to that stage last year and maybe how that carried over to the US Pro Challenge and your win in Colorado last year…

TvG: Well, as far as confidence goes, I am definitely confident in my ability to be a Tour de France contender. Last year things just started falling apart. I didn’t have any trouble all season, I was always on the podium at every race I did and then all of a sudden everything unravelled at the Tour. It was the worst time to have that happen.

The Alpe d’Huez stage…that was certainly a missed opportunity. I still live with that because your name goes in the history books if you win on Alpe d’Huez and I may never get another opportunity like that again on such a famed climb.

But you just have to put that behind you and move forward and use it as motivation, which I was able to do. I bounced back pretty well with the win in Colorado in front of the home crowd. That was definitely a special event and special moment for me.

Q: You said you had a look at some of the mountains stages. Was there any one in particular that stands out for you?

TvG: Well, they are all hard. We took a look at the Planche des Belles Filles in Switzerland. We did that one in 2012, Chris Froome won that stage. That climb in particular isn’t so hard. But you take the whole stage…we are just going up and down all day, it is really going to wear on some riders. I feel like there are going to be some big gaps there. That is the first true summit finish of the Tour so people are going to be pretty excited and fresh.

As far as one of them that I would consider my favourite, I don’t know. That is a tough question because going up mountains, they always hurt. They are never fun.

Q: Taylor Phinney was hoping to be on the Tour team and obviously he is injured now. You will be missing out on having him with you. Is that going to impact on the cobbled stage at all?

TvG: It was devastating news about Taylor. I think people might have had their doubts about him making the Tour team at the beginning of the year with his ability to get over the mountains, but seeing the form that he was on in California and nationals…I was texting with him saying that it looks like you are punching your ticket to the Tour de France. I was really excited to have him there and I think no one had any doubts of his ability to ride the Tour.

He is one of my best friends and I thought, ‘great, we will have another American there, he will probably be my roommate. We will have a clown on the table who will make us all laugh and raise the team spirit.’ But then to get that news was a pretty big blow.

I have been in touch with Taylor and his family a little bit. It sounds like he is doing well and he is motivated. He is definitely not going to let this beat him but, man, it has definitely been a tough time for him, for everyone close to him and for the team.

Q: As regards the pavé stage that you talked about earlier, Thor Hushovd won the last pavé stage that was in the Tour de France. If he were to be selected, do you see that as an advantage for you or could his obvious ambitions to win that stage be a problem?

TvG: No, I think it would definitely be an advantage. He knows how to ride the cobbles really well and it is just about sticking together as a team. So if he was there he would definitely be a really good wheel to follow.

Q: A lot of British colleagues are looking forward to the Grand Depart in Yorkshire. What are your thoughts about starting the Tour in Britain?

TvG: It will be pretty cool. It will be my second time being in Britain. I really like it there. I think the fans will be huge there, seeing how Great Britain has had so much success in cycling lately. I am really excited to be starting there.

Q: This is the first year that you will be BMC’s Tour de France leader as opposed to Cadel Evans. Has he provided with you with any advice or have you had any conversations with him as regards how to go about handling that mantle in the race?

TvG: I haven’t really spoken with Cadel. He has been pretty much busy with his own programme, with racing the Giro. Now it is finished I think he is pretty keen to take a little rest. But maybe as the Tour approaches, as we get a little closer, I might reach out to him for a little advice.

Q: In 2009 in the Tour de l’Avenir, you raced the finish of stage eight for this year, to Gérardmer. Is it difficult enough to bring the GC riders into?

TvG: You are really drawing on my past here, I can barely even remember! 2009 Tour de l’Avenir…I saw stage eight when we were doing the recon. It has that really steep two kilometre finish. I didn’t recognise it. If I had raced on it in 2009, I would have thought I would have recognised it.

Anyway, I did it in the recon and that stage is going to be…it is not going to be decisive, where people are going to lose minutes, but you definitely don’t want to get caught out. You can waste a lot of energy and you can certainly…the GC guys will be at the front on that stage for sure.

I don’t think there is going to be huge time gaps, it is not going to decide the Tour de France, but I would say there will be a GC contender in yellow that day.

Q: You may not have had any advice from Cadel, but who have been the most influential figures in the team, be it riders, mentors, managers, when it comes to leadership?

TvG: Well, the director Yvon Ledanois has been huge. Him and Allan Peiper are really good mentors for me. I have know Allan a long time since my days on HTC and Yvon, he was new to the team last year….

I have done a lot of races with him. He is a really good director, really solid tactics. He is always fair, he is not afraid to get in your face and tell you if you have done something wrong. If you did something wrong, it doesn’t matter what your name is. So I have a lot of respect for him and he has definitely been a good mentor.

Q: In view of the Giro d’Italia, do you have any feelings on what he is likely to do next? Do you think it is important for him to try to finish his career on a high note, or what is his motivation at this point? Do you expect him to be riding the Vuelta, for example?

TvG: I am not sure what his programme is, or even if this is his last year racing. I am not sure. Certainly if I was him I would want to go out on a high note. There are plenty of races on the calendar that suit him well. I think he could finish his career on a high note if he decides to finish it.

You know, there is Lombardy, the world championships…these tough one day races which have tended to suit him really well in the past. If I were him I would be certainly motivated for the end of the year.

Q: The focus obviously is on the Tour de France this year. Can you look beyond at all to August and coming back and defending your championship in Colorado? I know it is a secondary goal now but obviously it is your home turf and the race has certainly been good to you. Any comments on that?

TvG: Yeah, I have looked in the course, it starts in my home town. We have a start and finish on the first stage with a circuit race and then it starts the next day out of Aspen.

It is not very often that I can do a race and not even have to travel. That will make it easy – I will be able to be at home, to train and relax from the Tour.

It is always hard the Monday morning after the Tour to saddle up, to put on a chamois, and go out and get back to work. But the Pro Challenge is certainly something that will make that easier. It will be a good motivator.