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Tejay van Garderen wins Amgen Tour of California

Winner Tejay van Garderen celebrates on the podium during the awards ceremony for the Amgen Tour of California on Sunday in Santa Rosa.
(Doug Pensinger / Getty Images)

SANTA ROSA — Tejay van Garderen rode his bicycle into a hotel meeting room Sunday as if he were corralling a bucking bronco. He reared the cycle up on its back wheel and slammed it down during a well-earned and well-deserved celebration.

Van Garderen, a 24-year-old from Bozeman, Mont., took hold of the eighth Amgen Tour of California on Friday by winning the time trial in San Jose; kept his grip Saturday by not faltering on the climb up Mt. Diablo; and by Sunday he might as well have stopped and sampled some of the products at the wineries that dotted the countryside along the 80.7-mile final stage from San Francisco to Santa Rosa.

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The eight-stage winning time for Van Garderen was 29 hours 43 minutes. Michael Rogers, an Australian riding for Team Saxo-Tinkoff who won here in 2010, was 1:47 back in second. Janier Calle Acevedo of Colombia, riding for the team Jamis-Hagens Berman, was 3:26 back in third. Three other Americans — Matthew Busche, Lawson Craddock and Chad Haga — also finished in the top 10 of America’s largest stage race.

It is the first victory in a major stage race for Van Garderen, who represents the Santa Rosa-based BMC Racing team and had first come onto the scene three years ago as the leader for Riverside native Bob Stapleton’s HTC-Columbia team.

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Stapleton, who left the sport two years ago in the midst of ugly doping allegations involving many of the veteran American racers, was pleased to see the modest and good-natured Van Garderen show his sprit at the final stage Sunday.

It has been an emotional spring for Van Garderen. His first child, a daughter, was born April 7. Van Garderen raced home (on a plane) from Europe, hoping to make it to Denver in time to see her enter the world. Van Garderen made it with an hour to spare.

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“With the events of the last month,” Van Garderen said, “it’s been amazing with the new child. I’m not going to say everything has gone entirely smoothly with training. I had to take a couple of days to catch up on sleep. But I felt really good coming here.”

Thor Hushovd, a veteran Norwegian sprinter and a teammate of Van Garderen’s, said that what he did this week should not be a surprise. “He’s a big talent,” Hushovd said. “He won this tour now. He could make it his own.”

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Slovakian Peter Sagan of the Cannondale team outsprinted Austrian Daniel Schorn of Netapp-Endura and American Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp for the final stage victory and became the winner of the green points jersey. It was the second stage win this year for Sagan, who won five stages last year.

But it was Van Garderen who claimed the overall leader’s yellow jersey. His victory was forged in the intense heat during the first two days in Escondido and Palm Springs, where temperatures topped 105, along with steady riding in gnarly crosswinds up the coast and then what seemed to be a rocket-propelled time trial in San Jose. Those efforts were followed by a confident climb up Mt. Diablothat all but secured his tour win.

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“Tejay has a big talent,” Stapleton said. “He’s still really a young rider, but he’s a big GC [Grand Classic] contender.”

Whether that happens this July in the Tour de France or in a year or two is the question.

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“Everything just finally came together,” Van Garderen said. “I’ve known for years I’m capable of a ride like this. It all finally fell into place. It shows I can deliver under pressure.

“It’s a big relief to get the first big stage race. I was starting to get worried I didn’t have what it takes to win a stage race, so now I’ll go in to others with a little less stress. I can loosen my grip and let things come naturally.”

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BMC team director Jim Ochowicz said it’s always a major deal for a young rider to get his or her first big win.

“He’s learned to manage a high-profile team,” Ochowicz said. “This is a big accomplishment for him, not just in the short term. It’s now about the next big thing.”

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin


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