Evans & van Garderen. Tour & Giro. Yes & No.
Velonews ran two stories this week about the BMC duo of Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen.
The gist was that Evans, fresh off his podium in the Tour Down Under, has rediscovered his motivation and form and is therefore on track for a shot at winning the Giro d’Italia.
Meanwhile the prediction at Velonews was that Tejay van Garderen will not fare as well in his new BMC captain role at the Tour de France due to overwhelming stress and sub-optimal climbing skills.
Twisted Spoke has the opposite hunch.
We predict that Evans won’t make the podium in the Italian grand tour while van Garderen will surprise the doubters as he takes over the boss-man role in France.
Evans has confounded us before so we’ll just admit that up front. Last year we thought the last minute Giro addition to his program was a terrible idea for preparing to tackle the Tour de France. Yes and no on that score. Evans stunned us with a second place next to Nibali in an apocalyptic Giro run in horrendous weather conditions. But then, he showed up in France exhausted mentally and physically.
We’d argue that the bad weather was to Evan’s advantage. He’s always been a grinder, a man with a high threshold for suffering and his strength is consistency. Those three character traits allowed him to do well in a Giro that quickly destroyed the hopes of Bradley Wiggins of Sky and Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Sharp.
Two things we’re pretty confident about for the 2014 Giro d’Italia: Evans will be another year older at 37 and the weather is bound to be significantly improved. Our prediction: Quintana, Porte and Rodriguez will kick his ass.
On the other hand — or it is crank arm? — the word from Velonews is that Tejay van Garderen will have a tough time at Le Grand Shindig. Reason number one: he’s a diesel engine that can’t keep up with serious climbers like Froome and Nibali. Reason number two: just too much damn pressure on his skinny shoulders.
There’s no doubt that van Garderen isn’t on the same level as Froome and Nibali on those Hors Categorie climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees. When I interviewed him after this year’s US Pro Cycling Challenge, he admitted that while his time trail skills are podium-quality, his climbing ability needs to improve.
Our sense, hunch, hope, irrational guess is that he’ll do the work required to raise his climbing game. In person, Tejay comes across as laid-back and chill but he’s a highly focused and ambitious rider. Like Pit-bull Andrew Talansky, he will make the sacrifices required to gain the extra wattage.
On the subject of pressure and expectation, van Garderen came a long way last season. He grew into the role of confident team captain in winning the Tour of California and US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. As he has said, it wasn’t easy as a young kid to order vets to work for him. Now, he’s ready.
When I spoke with van Garderen, I was particularly impressed by his thoughts on being a team leader. It was clear that he’s watched and studied Cadel Evans and had some distinct ideas about the kind of captain he wanted to be.
“I want to be thought of as a leader that elevates the people around me. I’ve worked with a couple of riders who were maybe a little insecure in their leadership. If someone else was riding strong they’d actually want to push them down and make sure they kept their leadership spot,” van Garderen told Twisted Spoke. “The kind of leader I want to be is one who’s maybe not always the strongest guy but the one who’s able to elevate everyone around him — to raise the bar, the standard on what’s expected.”
He’s 25 years old, folks. That’s an impressive level of maturity.
Now we don’t expect to see van Garderen on the podium — that seems like a few years away — but we do expect a strong, confident performance that will confirm his progression and leadership ability.
When I think of the Tour pressure cooker, it’s also good to remember how van Garderen dug himself out of a deep psychological hole in the 2013 Tour. He bombed out in the first major mountain stage losing big chunks of time. Tour over before it really started. When you’ve been working like an animal for half a year to perform well in the Tour, that’s a crushing feeling.
Tejay admitted that he floundered for a week or so after that, wondering what the Hell he was doing, trying to find some new motivation. Again, this is a young guy — think you could handle that kind of stress at 25 on the biggest stage with the brightest spotlights?
Thing is, he did pull himself together to put in a dazzling ride on Alp d’Huez. If not for a mechanical issue with his chain, van Garderen would surely have won the queen stage of the 100th birthday edition. I think they call that intestinal fortitude or as Richie Porte likes to say, a “big set of swingers.”
In fact, we’d guess that van Garderen and Evans will end up in roughly the same GC position in the Giro and Tour. Barring a crash or illness, Evans will grind his way into the 5-7th position and Tejay will hit the same mark in France.
A result that says Evans is on his way out and van Garderen on the way up.