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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.”

 

Eli Viviania wins first stage of Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Italy’s Elia Viviani slipped through a tiny gap near the finish line to win the first stage of the Tour Down Under on Tuesday as riders faced the dual challenge of extreme heat and strong winds.

Viviani was tucked back in the peloton, behind triple world champion Peter Sagan, as riders raced towards the finish of the 129-kilometer stage at Port Adelaide.

First Danny van Poppel of the Netherlands, then Germany’s Maximilian Richard Walscheid hit the front in the straight sprint to the finish and Walscheid looked to have made the winning burst.

But Viviani, who fell during the 50-kilometer tour prelude on Sunday, showed fearlessness as he threaded his way along the crowd barriers to dash past Walsheid for the stage victory.

Riders had to contend with temperatures in the high 30s Celsius (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) as they raced through the Adelaide Hills, then contended with heat and crosswinds on the long ride along a broad and exposed motorway to the finish.

Organizers had intended to finish with a 3.4-km circuit but, after concerns about the heat, winds and possible traffic problems, they opted instead for a straight run into the finish.

“Today the plan was to wait a little bit and put me in the best position,” Viviani said. “Also the lead out guys had to bring some wind in the face from five kilometers to one kilometer out. Sometimes the danger is you don’t have the space to go through, but I found a little space on the left on the barriers.”

Viviani claimed the win for his Deceuninck-Quick Step team ahead of Walscheid while Italy’s Jakub Mareczko was third. Sagan finished in eighth place with the same time as the winner.

Ex-British cycling doc faces hearing over testosterone order

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LONDON — The former doctor of Team Sky and British Cycling will face a medical hearing on allegations he covered up an order of testosterone which was intended to help an athlete.

Richard Freeman’s actions have been at the center of a British parliamentary investigation into doping in sport and he is now accused by the General Medical Council of getting Testogel “to administer to an athlete to improve their athletic performance.”

Details published by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service ahead of an upcoming hearing say Freeman is accused of making “untrue statements, in that he denied making the order and advised that it had been made in error” in 2011. Freeman is said to have asked a company to provide confirmation that the Testogel order was sent in error and returned “knowing that this had not taken place.”

The tribunal will examine allegations Freeman misled the U.K. Anti-Doping Agency in a 2017 interview by insisting the Testogel had not been ordered for an athlete at the Manchester velodrome where both Team Sky and British Cycling were based at the time in 2011.

The tribunal is listed as being sometime between Feb. 6 to March 5.