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Tejay To California Rivals: "En Garde!"

By JoE Silva

Tejay van Garderen
©BMC/Tim de Waele
There's little doubt that the next generation of great American cyclists includes BMC Racing Team's 24 year-old Tejay van Garderen. The Bozeman, Montana native who was the first U.S. rider to wear the legendary Polka Dot climber's jersey at the Tour de France, recently nabbed another French cycling trophy at the 2012 edition of Paris-Nice – the White jersey of the Best Young Rider.

"I was motivated for Paris-Nice and I wanted to do well there. I feel good. I've had a little time to rest and recharge and now I'm back into training. The next build up is for California and I think I'm definitely on track." said Tejay van Garderen.

That build up includes some ultra-tough European events like La Flèche Wallonne, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and the Tour of Romandy. It's the kind of competition that will serve van Garderen well when he returns to the States with a BMC squad that hopes to dominate this year's Amgen Tour of California.

Van Garderen's initial take on the 2012 race is that three crucial days may determine the final outcome – the stage 5 time trial in Bakersfield, the stage 6 ride to Big Bear Lake, and the brutal stage 7 ascent of Mount Baldy. But he feels that he and the other major contenders are going to have to be mindful of the some of the hillier stages earlier on – including the run over the climb of Bonny Doon en route to Santa Cruz County.

"I think we're gonna bring a strong team and I think Levi (Leipheimer) and (Chris) Horner's team will do a good job controlling any breakaways that get time. I know that Bonny Doon can be a selective stage…as long as I'm attentive I think it will still come down to those three days."

The stage where van Garderen has perhaps the best chance of getting some advantage over Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Horner (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) is the Bakersfield individual time trial. And for that he will simply keep his head down and go.

"You're just going to have to go out hard but make sure to save a little bit on the way back. There's nothing else you can do. Levi's going to be hard to beat at the time trial. You can always hope that he has a bad day or something, but right now I think it's pretty much about looking at those two guys to see if either you can hang with them or take advantage of them at some point. There's no hit it on the climb or (taking) the corners fast. It's just kind of…straight, flat and go hard."

Provided that he can muscle out some advantage over his rivals during the TT, Tejay still has to stare down the magnificent mountain top finish of Mount Baldy. It's the second time the climb has been included in the Amgen Tour of California and his memories of last year's ascent aren't all that pleasant.

"I just know that it was steep and hard and came at the end of the race when everyone was tired. I just remember that it was really hard. You have to empty the tank and see where you end up. I'll have to wait and see when I get there…how my legs respond from the kind of training and racing I've done beforehand. If all goes well, I should have some good form there. I think Horner is going to be hard to beat on Baldy, so hopefully I can put some time into him on the time trial."

Along with that hope, van Garderen has learned much over the past year out on the road; including how to stay calm and race smart even when your heart is telling you to go 'all in.'

"Sometimes you have to put your ego aside and think 'OK, I need to limit my losses rather than try to win the race, because sometimes you get to a point where you just don't have it in you. But I hope to get to California and actually have it in me to play with the best."