The Tejay van Garderen Conundrum.
Nice, big, fat and informative interview with Tejay van Garderen by Neal Rogers at Cyclingtips.
Rogers was the first to get a real in-depth, sit-down, what-the-Hell-is-going-on? conversation with Tejay after what has been a seriously underwhelming performance in both the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana. That was on the heels of a seriously disappointing performance the year before in the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.
Critics are starting to see an ugly pattern and they are suddenly smacking him around with all sorts of critiques. He’s not right in the head, he’s lost motivation, he’s not a grand tour rider, he was over-hyped, etc etc. Jeez, guy is only 28, folks, plenty of time for a rebound.
Van Garderen took a strong stance against those opinions, insisting he still sees himself as a grand tour rider, a team leader and a top Tour contender. However, he did admit he’s not exactly sure about the reasons for his mysterious power outages.
The interview was a symbolic bookend to the harsh critique handed out this week by experienced Australian cycling journalist Anthony Tan. In an article entitled False Hopes, he took issue with the idea that Van Garderen or Andrew Talansky would ever be serious contenders for the Tour de France. He called Talansky’s recent fifth place on GC in the Vuelta one of the most “invisible” rides he’d ever seen.
Tan’s conclusion was damning: “I need a lot of convincing for someone to honestly tell me that van Garderen is a Grand Tour rider. I need even more (actually, I probably need to be drugged or hypnotized) for someone to tell me he’s a Grand Tour leader.”
Now, Tan is entitled to his opinion, he’s a knowledgable writer on the subject of pro cycling and he’s also not one to put up with bullshit or hype. His opinion carries a certain weight.
There’s no question that the last two years for Van Garderen have been frustrating and unfortunate. It appeared he’d finally put it all together in the 2015 Tour de France, going into the second rest day in third place overall. All signs pointed to a podium until a sudden illness knocked him out of the race.
Shit happens, that’s bike racing, yada-yada. Van Garderen feels that now everyone is blowing things out of proportion. “I’m not scared of the Tour de France. I’m not thinking I need a break, that I’ve had a couple of rough years, and that I need to recover from it. It’s not like that. Yes, I’ve had a rough couple of years, but I’m a professional athlete. People take hard hits, they get up, and they go forward.”
For Twisted Spoke, the real nugget in the interview is the sense that Van Garderen is starting to question the advice of others, including from his BMC squad. He’s beginning to wonder if maybe he needs to get back to doing things his way, the approach he took when he was having more fun and getting better results. Perhaps part of the defiance in his tone is a recognition that the “improvement” that needs to happen is Tejay taking control.
It’s no wonder that Van Garderen is such good friends with the uber-confident free spirit Taylor Phinney. Nor is it surprising that he’s doing a mountain bike race this weekend with fellow pro Lachlan Morton of Jelly Belly. Morton has done a few years of his own soul searching, trying to find that happy balance between what he needs to do and what others expect him to do to succeed in the sport. These two Boulder, Colorado buddies might be the best people to help get Tejay sorted out.
It’s clear from the interview that Tejay is tired of over-thinking things, being too analytical, worrying about this or that detail. He has a clear memory of having fun while winning the Tour of California and US Pro Cycling Challenge and he wants to get back to that feeling.
A good number of people seem to find Van Garderen to be a dull, robotic person in interviews. We’ve never had that opinion. In our one long phone conversation after he’d won the US Pro Cycling Challenge, he was articulate, open and honest. Around friends, he can be quick with a joke — his press conferences in Colorado with people like Tom Danielson were filled with one liners and quips and all the journalists were laughing.
In short, we’re expecting Van Garderen to come out of his shell a bit in 2017. He’s had it with listening to others telling him what to do. New plan: have more fun, say whatever he wants and chart his own race plans. Will he ever make the podium in a grand tour?– we can’t really answer that. But having more fun just might be the best solution at this point.