Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of Velo magazine, the annual awards issue.
Ask Tejay van Garderen about the best single moment of his 2014 season, and he may give you a different answer depending on the day.
Over a one-week span in late October, van Garderen (BMC Racing) provided two VeloNews editors with two different answers, first citing his mountaintop stage win at Vallter during the Volta a Catalunya, and later citing his mountaintop stage win at Monarch Mountain in Colorado during the USA Pro Challenge.
At Catalunya, in March, van Garderen beat the best GC riders in the sport -- Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador -- on a day marked by rain, snow and 20K of climbing.
“I think a lot of guys saw me as a good climber who can ride tempo, but to win like that, that was important,” van Garderen said. “Okay, it wasn’t the Tour de France, and maybe everyone wasn’t on their best form, but to win like that, on a real summit finale, that was a big confidence boost, to show that I could climb like that against those guys.”
At the Pro Challenge, in August, van Garderen responded to several attacks from Tour of Utah winner Tom Danielson, and then held off Tour de France King of the Mountains winner Rafal Majka to take victory and the race lead, which he would not relinquish.
“Our team rode tactically perfect that day,” van Garderen said. “We kept our wits about us, we never panicked, even when we were bombarded by Garmin and Saxo. Then, to cap it off in the end like that, it’s rare that I cross the line first on a stage. I’m more of a time trialist, or GC specialist -- to put my hands up in the air like that, in front of a home crowd, is really special.”
The fact that both moments came to mind is indicative of the kind of year the 26-year-old American had, one that he said was easily his “best season to date.”
In between those two moments, van Garderen finished a hard-fought fifth overall at the Tour de France, equaling his career-best finish from 2012. This year's Tour was one that saw him crash several times, get sick, bonk in the Pyrenees, and only move into the top five after the Stage 20 time trial.
“That was my best Tour this year, easily,” van Garderen said. “You have a lot of ‘what-ifs.’ I got sick, I crashed a few times, I bonked that one day, and that really cost me a lot of time. There are ‘what ifs’ on the other side, with Contador and Froome crashing out; that opened up some doors for me.
"At one point, I thought I was going to get on the podium, but that didn’t happen. It looked like a possibility. I just take it for what it is. I try to learn from the mistakes and move on, and focus on next year, and keep chipping away. One day I do believe I will be on the podium in the Tour.”
Van Garderen bookended the 2014 season with memorable performances, including second overall to Froome at the Tour of Oman in February, and a win for the BMC at the world team time trial championship in late September. That time-trial victory, he said, was the biggest of his career. He finished the year ranked 22nd in the UCI WorldTour standings.
Asked what led to such a successful 2014 season, van Garderen said it was a mix of several factors.
“Experience, more miles in the legs, being a bit older, and wiser, knowing when to stay calm, and when to fight, knowing how to train,” van Garderen said. “We made a move to Nice, France, and the training there is spectacular. I have a good group of guys there to train with. There were a few new things, but I also made a point to stick to the basics. I’ll just keep plugging away, year by year.”