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Van Garderen embraces No. 2 role for team at Tour de France

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LA ROCHE-SUR-YON, France – For years, Tejay van Garderen has been the United States’ best hope of winning the Tour de France.

But for this edition of the world’s biggest cycling race, Van Garderen is tasked with doing all he can for teammate Richie Porte to fight for the title.

“It’s different. It’s certainly less pressure, and when you have a leader like Richie it’s a role that is easy to jump into,” Van Garderen said on Thursday, two days before the race starts in western France.

Van Garderen’s first job will be to do his part on the team time trial on Stage 3. A good result by BMC would boost Porte’s chances of ending Chris Froome’s dominance at the Tour.

His next challenge as his team’s No. 2 will be to protect Porte on the climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees where only the hardiest riders can keep up.

Van Garderen, who finished the Tour of California second in May, showed he can protect Porte in the mountains when he helped the Australian win the Tour de Suisse last month by reeling in rivals when they attacked.

“He already performed well in that role, especially in the Tour de Suisse, when (Mikel) Landa and (Nairo) Quintana launched attacks,” BMC sports director Fabio Baldato told The Associated Press. “It’s a new role but he’s well established within the team.”

When acting as BMC’s leader, Van Garderen finished the Tour in fifth place in 2012 and 2014.

In 2015, he was riding in third place and aiming for a spot on the podium in Paris when he fell ill and was forced to withdraw.

Those ascending results generated expectations that Van Garderen could one day become the first American to cleanly win the Tour since Greg LeMond in 1989 and 1990. Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis were later stripped of their Tour titles for having doped.

But when Porte joined BMC in 2016, the American team said Porte and Van Garderen were the co-leaders at the Tour. Porte finished a career-best fifth in the race, while Van Garderen was 29th. Van Garderen skipped last year’s Tour to ride in the Giro d’Italia.

Baldato said it was the 29-year-old Van Garderen who wanted to play wingman this time around.

“He asked to come to the Tour as a support rider. We call him a teammate `di lusso’ (an extra special teammate),” Baldato told The AP. “The pressure that came with being the leader wasn’t easy to handle. Now that he’s free of that pressure he’s got less weight on his shoulders.

“It will free his mind up and make him ride better.”

Porte knows what it means to be a shield-bearer. He was Froome’s ally when he won his first two Tour titles in 2013 and 2015 for Team Sky.

At 33, Porte also knows this may be his last chance to win an elusive Grand Tour. Last year he was in contention for the Tour until he crashed out.

When asked if he would be prepared to take over if Porte again falters, Van Garderen replied with a curt, “I will do what I am told.

“(Porte) is in great shape and he has a good shot to get on the podium in Paris and I am looking forward to helping him to be able to do that.”

 

With Yates’ win at Vuelta, British domination is complete

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PARIS — When Lance Armstrong won the last of his seven Tour de France titles back in 2005, there was not a single British rider on the starting line. The face of cycling has dramatically changed since, with Armstrong erased from the records books for doping and British cycling now ruling the Grands Tours.

Simon Yates capped a fantastic year for British riders on Sunday by winning the Spanish Vuelta, completing a clean sweep of cycling’s biggest races for the country following the successes of Chris Froome at the Giro d’Italia and Geraint Thomas at the Tour de France.

It is the first time in cycling history that each of the three titles have been held by three riders from the same nation.

“It’s astonishing really. Growing up I was so accustomed to seeing the French, Italian and Spanish riders lead the way, so for myself, Chris and Geraint to all win a Grand Tour in the same year just shows how far the sport has come in this country,” the 26-year-old Yates said. “It has not happened by accident.”

Like Thomas, Yates is a pure product of British cycling, having joined the country’s renowned academy program when he was 18 years old. At the time, Britain had already started its cycling revolution under the helm of coaches Dave Brailsford and Peter Keen, who masterminded the rise of homegrown talents, on both the track and the road.

The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona were a milestone in British cycling history. In Spain, Chris Boardman, who was coached by Keen, won the gold medal in the individual pursuit, Britain’s first cycling gold medal in 72 years. From 1997-2004, Keen was in charge of the elite performance program of the British cycling federation and developed a plan focusing on track cycling to attract funding from the National Lottery, which had just started to invest millions of dollars into British sport federations.

“Britain has invested heavily in lower ranks,” said Brailsford, who runs Team Sky. “It does not happen overnight.”

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Jason Queally won the gold medal in the 1-kilometer time trial and the harvest of track medals expanded in Athens and Beijing under Brailsford’s leadership. But successes on the road remained scarce despite the emergence of a talented generation of riders including Mark Cavendish and Thomas, who developed their skills through the academy program run by Rod Ellingworth.

In 2009, Bradley Wiggins achieved a fourth-place finish at the Tour – he was later awarded third place after Armstrong’s disqualification – while riding for Garmin. He became an obvious choice for the newly-created Team Sky that Brailsford helped to create and then managed, and was recruited as the team’s leader. With his “marginal gains” philosophy and unmatched budget, Brailsford produced the first British Tour de France winner in 2012 with Wiggins, just a year after Cavendish became world champion at the road race championships.

Success has not stopped since.

“There were no British winners in any of the first 259 Grand Tours, yet following Yates’s victory in Madrid this weekend a British rider has now been victorious in nine of the last 20,” read a British Cycling statement after Yates won the Vuelta.

This year’s British dominance has, however, been met with skepticism outside the country after Froome returned an abnormal doping test at last year’s Vuelta. Froome was cleared to compete at the Tour de France just days before the race started but was subjected to abuse by some fans on the roads of France, repeatedly spat at and even punched.

Thomas was also booed and jeered this year because he rides for Team Sky, which has been accused by a British parliamentary committee of crossing an “ethical line” after preaching zero tolerance and is now often associated with doping. In March, the British legislators said they received evidence showing Team Sky sought a therapeutic use exemption for Wiggins to take a banned corticosteroid to enhance his performance while preparing to win the 2012 Tour.

Yates, who competes for the Mitchelton-Scott team, was suspended for four months for non-intentional doping two years ago after testing positive for a banned substance during Paris-Nice. He had been treated for asthma, but his team failed to apply for a therapeutic use exemption.

Geraint Thomas selected for world championships

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LONDON — Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome have been included in the British squad for next month’s road world championships.

The Team Sky riders were selected for both the time trial and the road race in Innsbruck, Austria, from Sept. 23-30. The road race squad also includes twins Adam and Simon Yates.

The road race circuit in and around Innsbruck features several demanding ascents and is likely to favor riders with strong climbing skills like Thomas and Froome, a four-time Tour de France champion. Froome won the Giro this year while Simon Yates posted three stage victories and wore the pink leader jersey for 13 days at the Italian race.

British Cycling performance director Stephen Park says “Innsbruck promises some challenging yet exciting racing and we will confirm our final squad selection in due course.”