Aspen’s Tejay Van Garderen blew the competition away in the cycling category of our Best Mountain Athlete poll this past fall. That’s no surprise since he has also been steadily blowing the competition away on the bike ever since he won the prestigious Circuito Montanes at 20 and took second in the Tour de l’Avenir at 21. Now 26, the Montana native has only ramped it up over the past five years, winning his second straight USA Pro Challenge last year, in addition to his victory at the World Team Time Trial Championships, a fifth place finish in the Tour de France and a 2013 win of the Tour of California. He will be the American rider to watch in this year’s Tour de France. The BMC racing team member took the time during a busy race season this March to talk to us about what it takes to reach the top.
What made you choose Aspen as a place to live and train?
My wife, Jessica, has family in Aspen, so when we were getting ready to start our own family, it made sense that we have a good support system in place around my training. Aspen is also a great place to ride. It’s at altitude, the weather is generally good and there are the kinds of climbs I need for training.
What are your goals heading into the Tour de France this season?
My goal is always to win the Tour de France. It’s the biggest race of the year, especially for the BMC Racing Team, and it is the one that everyone wants to win because there’s so much attention around it. I might have had a good shot last year to be on the podium but I had one bad day. And that’s all it takes—one day in three weeks—and you see your chances of a win gone. The good news is that I won’t make the same mistake this time [he did not eat enough on a long, tough stage of the race].
Can you tell us anything about competing in the race that you think most people back home don’t realize?
There are actually two other “grand tours” of cycling, three-week races that are nearly as important and prestigious to win. But in America, you rarely hear of any races in Europe other than the Tour de France. Some people also don’t realize that we race all the time, from January through to October, and not just in Europe. Last year, I raced in China at the Tour of Beijing.
How important is it for you to win another Pro Challenge? Does racing in your home state make a difference?
The USA Pro Challenge is a big part of my season. While it comes after my goal race, the Tour de France, it is always one I am up to doing well in and I love racing in my adopted home state. What makes the race really cool is how well it is supported by cycling fans. The crowds are huge— like some of the big races in Europe—and that makes it a lot of fun. I also think I do well in Colorado because I know so many of the climbs. It’s really paid off, especially the Vail time trial, which I have won the past two years.
What’s your race day routine?
It’s basically the same no matter where we are racing (though some of the races in Spain, where I am racing now in the Volta a Catalunya, tend to start pretty late in the day, noon or after one o’clock). We wake up after sleeping nine or 10 hours. We try to eat three hours before the race, and at a lot of races we have a chef because the hotel food is not always reliable or the best for what we need.
There’s often a transfer to the start—sometimes by bike—and we typically get to the start about 75 minutes before it begins. There’s a pre-race meeting, getting dressed and sign-in (sometimes we warm-up on our Elite trainers if the course goes uphill right away). Fans are usually outside our bus and there are media interviews before the start, too. Then we race for four, five or sometimes more than six hours. Afterwards, we have recovery food and drink from PowerBar on the bus and back at the hotel. We get a massage, try to stay off our feet and just relax until dinner. Then it’s more refueling with a nice meal and then more relaxation before bedtime. It might seem a bit boring, but that’s just the way it is.
What gives you hope for the sport? Are there some up-and-coming riders who you are excited about? Any who remind you of where you were at five years ago?
Cycling has a lot going for it right now, especially in America. The world championships are coming to Richmond, Virginia, in September. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to race on home soil in the most important one-day race on the calendar. I’m looking forward to defending our team time trial championship there, too. As for the young riders, there’s another Tejay—T.J. Eisenhart of Utah, who races for the BMC Development Team. He’s the Under 23 national time trial champion and is one of those young guns to watch. The nice thing is that USA Cycling has a fantastic development program going to help bring up the guys who are most promising and can carry the torch.
Who are your cycling heroes?
I never really had a cycling hero. But my dad, Marcel, was a cyclist and he really got me interested and involved in the sport. I know he enjoyed watching me have success as much as I had liked making him happy by doing well.
What do you think cycling can do to continue to grow as a sport here in Colorado and across the U.S.?
It helps to have more races like the USA Pro Challenge and the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour of Utah. The big races attract more attention and that’s how you get people exposed to the sport. It would be nice to see some of these races expand to longer than a week, but that’s a big ask in America sometimes. I hope the world championships in Richmond help elevate the sport in terms of visibility and interest. •