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    The addition of Tejay van Garderen to EF Education First Pro Cycling’s stable of stage racers made waves over the winter. A proven winner at WorldTour level, the American has been on the cusp of greatness without quite achieving it. But, as he assures us in the second of EF Gone Racing’s rider interviews, his best years are still ahead of him.

    Touted as the next great hope of American cycling from the very early stages of his career, Tejay van Garderen was a regular contender for the white jersey of best young rider at the world’s most prestigious stage races in the years after he turned pro in 2010.

    Now entering his tenth year in the bunch, the American’s palmarès includes victory at the Tour of California, a stage win at the Giro d’Italia and World Championship titles but still doesn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations set when he was an all-conquering newcomer.

    Does the fire needed to race for WorldTour wins still burn? “Oh yeah. One hundred percent,” he shoots back. A simple answer to a straight question. For Tejay, the motivation to ride is the same as it always has been: “I love winning, I love kicking ass and trying to prove that I’m one of the best. Some people like the serenity of riding a bike and I get that too but if you ask me why I race my bike, that’s why.”

    “I know that I achieved a lot in the earlier stages of my career but I realise that there has been a dip too,” he concedes, reflecting on the weaker Grand Tour results he posted in the latter stages of his BMC career.

    Mature enough to recognise a downturn in results, Tejay is also experienced enough to know that form fluctuates over time. He is quick to reassure us that the best days of his career are still to come: “When I retire in six, seven years time or whenever, I hope I will be remembered most vividly as an EF rider. I want my best years to be with this team.”

    “I know that I achieved a lot in the earlier stages of my career but I realise that there has been a dip too. I want my best years to be with this team.”

    Van Garderen’s switch to EF Education First Pro Cycling is his first in seven years, after a long stint with the BMC squad but the move feels more like a homecoming than pastures new.

    “I feel right at home with these guys, some of them were even at my wedding, guys like Alex Howes and Taylor Phinney. I’ve raced with others like Nate Brown, Joe Dombrowski and Lawson Craddock for the national team too so it wasn’t like I was an awkward newcomer. I was able to sit at the table right away and be one of the guys.”

    As much as these familiar faces have streamlined Tejay’s integration, he is just as excited to race with new teammates, in particular the team’s Colombian contingent of Dani Martínez and Rigoberto Urán. The former was the subject of our first EF Gone Racing interview and has impressed Van Garderen in training.

    “He smashed me up some of the climbs we did on a recent training camp,” Tejay chuckles. “But immediately after beating me, he’d always look back with a huge grin on his face. Dani is super strong but also enjoys what he is doing.”

    From young guns to serial winners, Tejay is also looking forward to striking up a partnership with team leader Rigoberto Urán.

    “I don’t know Rigo personally but I’ve raced with him enough to know that he’s not the kind of guy that lines out all seven of his teammates on the front to block the wind for him,” Tejay says. “He likes to sit at the back a bit more and come to the front when it matters, make the front group and ride for the win.”

    “I feel right at home with my new teammates, some of them were even at my wedding. I was able to sit at the table right away and be one of the guys.”

    Having seen Rigo’s raw power racing toe-to-toe against him, Tejay is unequivocal in staking his support for his Colombian leader: “If Rigo comes to a race and says ‘I’m fit’, I will gladly work for him any day of the week,” he says, “and twice on Tuesday.”

    Urán’s style represents a departure from the rigidity of BMC’s tactical approach. “On that team, you go in with a singular goal and one protected rider, it is made crystal clear that everyone on the bus is riding for that guy. The only problem is that if anything happens to your leader, you’re a mess,” he says from experience.

    At the 2015 Tour de France, Tejay was sitting in third place overall with just three days until the finish in Paris when he was struck down suddenly with illness. He missed a golden chance to stand on the podium beside Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana, while his BMC team left the race without even a stage win to their name. Now, Tejay prefers a more balanced approach.

    “EF like to spread their resources a little more and the fact that Rigo is not an oppressive leader opens the door for a lot of other guys to try something,” he says. After years of riding with the fortunes of his entire team on his shoulders, a more nuanced tactical approach with the EF team could pay dividends for both parties. So what does Tejay’s race programme look like?

    “If Rigo comes to a race and says ‘I’m fit’, I will gladly work for him any day of the week,” he says, “and twice on Tuesday.”

    He started his season with a dose of desert racing at the UAE Tour in late February, putting in some solid race days. “Although I would have preferred to finish further up the results list there, I think I’ve got the bump in fitness I need for the rest of the season.”

    After mixing things up in the later stages of his BMC career, 2019 will see Van Garderen return to a more traditional spring schedule and to some of the races that made his name.

    This week the American is competing at Paris-Nice, a race which has always heralded mixed fortunes for him. Earlier in his career, he twice finished in the top five overall and won the white jersey of best young rider but has been plagued by bad luck more recently, crashing twice and abandoning on the opening stage of last year’s race.

    Fast forward twelve months to this season and it was a case of déjà vu for Van Garderen as the windswept opening stage again proved to be the undoing of several leading riders’ overall aspirations. Caught behind a crash with defending champion Marc Soler, Tejay is out of GC contention but fired up to fight for a stage win as the race reaches its mountainous conclusion this weekend.

    Next up will be the Volta a Catalunya, where Tejay has a strong track record including two hugely impressive stage wins. On both occasions, he distanced rivals including Richie Porte, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador to take victory on tough summit finishes into the ski stations of Vallter 2000 and la Molina.

    “At every race I go to this year, I wanna ball. I’m not going to be thinking about the Tour de France all the time.”

    Taking place in the last week of March, this year’s race returns to both ski stations on back-to-back summit finishes in the middle of the week. With his detailed knowledge of both climbs and over two weeks of racing in his legs, Tejay will line up with his hopes firmly set on repeat success.

    In an era where Grand Tour contenders treat even the most prestigious weeklong stage races as training sessions, Tejay is an anomaly. “At every race I go to this year, I wanna ball,” he boldly states.

    “I’m not going to be thinking about the Tour de France all the time, I’ll be thinking hard about how to beat the guys I’m up against at any given race,” he continues. “Obviously, my fitness level will differ, depending on what time of the season it is but the mindset is the same for every race.”

    In April, Van Garderen will complete a tough block of training before returning to the Tour of California, a race he won in 2013. His season will reach a crescendo in July as he returns to the Tour de France but, as he’s keen to explain, that race is not the only gauge by which the success of his campaign will judged.

    After the Tour, Tejay’s schedule is undecided. As well as the traditional end-of-season races, his conversations with the team’s management have included some more unorthodox options as part of the alternative calendar project. Jointly conceived with Rapha, the alt calendar will see an adventurous contingent of EF Education First riders take on a selection of the world’s most exciting off-road and endurance events, from the Dirty Kanza to the Leadville 100.

    Initially sceptical, Tejay is intrigued by the prospect of racing Leadville, a 100-mile, high altitude mountain bike race, which takes place just down the road from his home in Aspen. “I didn’t want the alt calendar to interfere with my road racing but it could be hugely exciting,” he admits.

    “The Leadville 100 is after the Tour and it’s just over the mountain from my house,” he says. “It would be a great opportunity to enjoy the sport on a more human level and to engage with fans. I’d probably be racing against my real estate agent, that might spark some excitement.”

    From realtors to WorldTour regulars, every rider that lines up against Tejay van Garderen this season should be prepared to face a refreshed, reinvigorated rival. Touted as one for the future for so long, Tejay’s time is now.

    The next episode of EF Gone Racing will be filmed at Milan San Remo and released shortly afterwards. Catch up on the series so far and subscribe below.

    Tejay recommends…

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