We had the chance to talk with Tejay Van Garderen at the Plateau de Beille, about thirty minutes after the finish. He was just standing behind an HTC-Highroad team car, hanging out, while Danny Pate and Bernard Eisel stripped gear and took on food and recovery drinks.
The surprising thing about Van Garderen — besides how young he looks — is his perpetual laid-back calm about everything around him. He’s riding his first Tour de France and appears so relaxed that you might think he’s about to fall asleep.
Like the Tour just isn’t exciting or hard enough, the climbs aren’t steep enough, the roads aren’t narrow enough, the wind is too weak, the transfers too short, the hotel beds too comfortable. Not only does he seem unaffected by pressure, he’s oblivious to the whole conceptual package.
Everyone knows the Tour is a circus of extremes but Van Garderen seems like he considers La Grand Boucle some mildly amusing school play. This is one very centered, confident young rider and that kind of temperament, put together with serious climbing skills and more experience will have him in the top ten someday.
TS Tejay, this is your first Tour, you’re here to learn, no pressure, just how difficult has it been so far?
TVG It’s so hard. For a rider like me, there’s just no rest day where you can float in the bunch and ride easy. ‘Cause on the flat days we’re working on the front for the sprinters and on the mountain days I’m trying to stay up front and do what I can for Peter. So it’s not like I can just get in the big grupetto. I need to be up there fetching bottles and keeping them out of the wind. It really wears on you.
TS What’s your one revelation about the Tour so far?
TVG Just how nervous it can be. I mean, it’s calmed down a bit with the mountains and the GC is more settled but the first week with the rain and all the GC guys mixed with the bunch sprint guys and everyone trying to stay up there and out of trouble, it was really nervous. That takes a lot of energy.
TS How would you describe the pain, the suffering day after day?
TVG You get to the point where you are really, really tired but then you plateau. It’s not like every day you’re getting more and more tired. You hit this point where you can barely lift your leg over the bike but once your leg is over the bike, you can just go. But then after a grand tour, a week after, it catches up to you.
TS I was 3k down on the climb of Luz Arden. I looked at the faces of the guys coming up and said to myself, these guys are literally killing themselves. How’s it possible to ride like that?
TVG I wouldn’t say this is healthy exercise that we’re doing. We’re definitely pushing our bodies to the limit. It takes some mental edge to really push yourself to the limit day after day. It’s a weird thing.