Van Garderen leads Amgen Tour of California

Second in South Lake Tahoe nets van Garderen the yellow jersey

“I’m honored to represent yellow. I love this race.”

-Tejay van Garderen

Tejay van Garderen pulled on the Amgen Tour of California yellow leader’s jersey on Monday in South Lake Tahoe, California. The American climbed to second on the stage, crossing the finish line just behind Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep).

The yellow jersey was an unexpected reward for his work today. Van Garderen headed to podium for his stage position. Ahead of the podium presentations, he learned that he had jumped to the top of the general classification with a six-second advantage over Gianni Moscon (Team Ineos), who finished third on the stage.

“It was a good surprise,” said van Garderen. “I’m super happy, super thrilled. I’m honored to represent yellow. I love this race. I love representing this race, coming out here and giving it everything.”

In his first interview in the yellow jersey, van Garderen fielded a question about the team’s race plan with a laugh: “Did it look like we had a plan out there? We were just throwing grenades around but eventually one of them stuck.”

EF Education First Pro Cycling started the first mountainous stage of the Amgen Tour of California with the clear intent to make the race hard and put the other general contenders under pressure.

“We wanted to make use of our strength in numbers.”

-Charly Wegelius

“We wanted to take advantage of the fact that we have some of the most well-adapted altitude riders, and we wanted to make use of our strength in numbers,” said sport director Charly Wegelius. “I think we did that. We put some good inroads into the general classification – but we’re still a long, long way from Pasadena.”

An early breakaway of seven riders formed shortly after the peloton departed Rancho Cordova for the 214-kilometer stage. When the escape gained what would be their maximum advantage of three minutes, EF Education First Pro Cycling assumed responsibility for the chase.

Eighty kilometers from the South Lake Tahoe finish, all seven EF Education First Pro Cycling riders massed at the front of the peloton and lifted the pace up Kirkwood Pass. The massive uptick in speed immediately saw riders lose contact in the back of the bunch. Five kilometers after the hammerfest began, the last of the breakaway riders had returned to the bunch.

“That was an adaption of what we discussed in the morning,” said Wegelius. “Based on how the race was going, we brought our plans a little early.”

Lachlan Morton was the first to counter the catch, jumping away into a solo move and crossing the top of Kirkwood Pass alone.

In Morton’s wake, a flurry of attacks eventually saw the formation of a 14-rider selection, including Morton and Lawson Craddock.

“It was a big group but Trek and Jumbo-Visma had missed it,” van Garderen explained. “They had to pull with their teams to get it back, and once they did, it all regrouped. There was a new wave of attacks, and I followed what turned out to be a good move.”

On the Luther Pass descent, 10 riders formed a new selection. Van Garderen had Craddock for company.

“Lawson did an awesome job,” said van Garderen. “He was pulling really hard to make sure that there was some distance between our group and the chasers.”

By the time Craddock pulled off, job done, van Garderen was representing EF Education First in a six-man selection.

Racing for the stage win and time gains on the general classification, van Garderen attacked on the steepest section of the final two kilometers.

“The attack was partly because I didn’t want the guys behind to catch up,” said van Garderen. “I knew the steepest part was in the middle, so I knew it was kind of far out for the sprint, but I wanted to go on the steepest part. We ended up with just three of us, and I launched my sprint early. I couldn’t quite get the stage win, but the yellow jersey is a nice prize.”

While the main general classification challenge lies at the end of the week, van Garderen is the first to acknowledge the various landmines between South Lake Tahoe and Mount Baldy on Friday.

“Baldy is the obvious day for the overall, but when you look at the route, you don’t want to sleep on any of these days,” said van Garderen. “Someone can seize the opportunity to gain time on nearly any stage. Tomorrow we go over Mount Hamiliton, and you remember what happened there in 2016, 2017. The race blew apart there. When we go along the coast, there could be wind that day. Even though Baldy is the typical, clear-cut GC day, we want to be awake for every stage.”