Don’t let Tejay van Garderen fool you. Just because he retired in June after a lengthy career in racing, that doesn’t mean he’s done with cycling. Far from it.
In fact, he’ll be officially be a Sport Director with EF Education-NIPPO in 2022. The cycling legend will begin this next chapter as soon as the Vuelta a España, where he’ll be shadowing the team and learning the ropes.
While riding the Giro d’Italia, van Garderen admitted to himself that he wasn’t performing up to his own expectations. After some soul searching and conversations with the team, he knew he was coming to the end of his career as a racer. “At the Giro, I spoke to Matti Breschel and he was the one telling me, ‘If opportunities come, say yes. You might think you want to take a year off and figure things out but opportunities don’t come very often.’” Van Garderen felt he had nothing to lose and told the team he was interested in becoming a DS. Fortunately, the team was amenable and, as van Garderen tells it, “It all happened really fast. I almost still can’t believe I’m not a bike racer anymore but I’m really excited with the direction everything’s taken.”
Bringing his career full circle, van Garderen explains that he was only interested in being a DS if it was with EF Education-NIPPO. “It’s really special that I can be a DS for this team in particular. The friends I was able to make, the people I was able to work with these past few years, and my relationship with this organization dates back to when I was a junior on 5280 Magazine and I was teammates with Alex Howes when we were 17 years old. I’m really honored they’ve given me this opportunity.”
Reflecting on his career, he says, “When you’re a bike racer, you think, ‘Once I’m done racing I’m just going to put the sport behind me’ and start the next chapter. But when I was facing my own cycling mortality, I realized I’m still not done with the sport. I want to stay involved, I want to stay connected, I want to be with the guys and help in any way I can and if I can’t help with my legs anymore, then I want to help with my mind and my experience. Being a director, that’s the best way to do it.”
Van Garderen brings over a decade of WorldTour experience to the team. With GC wins at the USA Pro Challenge and the Amgen Tour of California, as well as stage wins at the Giro d’Italia, Tour de Suisse, and the Volta a Catalunya, van Garderen achieved impressive results at the biggest races on the calendar. Though he expects his palmares will provide him with race insight, he knows that most of the job is not about the wins. It can require telling someone he hasn’t been selected for a big race or picking up a rider when he’s feeling low. “I’ve crashed out of a big event, I’ve had a few pretty epic fails, so I’d probably be the perfect guy to talk them through it and say, ‘This happens to everyone, don’t let it define you.’”
The 33-year-old is both eager and a little anxious to begin his new role. “If I were headed to the Vuelta as a rider, I wouldn’t be nervous because I’d know what to do. As a DS, the thought of standing on the bus looking at the guys looking up at me as opposed to being with the guys looking up at the DS, I don’t know, it’s going to be weird.”
As for his duties at the Vuelta, they’re more than the American had initially anticipated. “I thought I’ll be on the bus with the riders and in the car with the DS and I’ll just see how they operate.” Senior Sport Director Charly Wegelius recommended he spend his time at the Vuelta shadowing not just the other directors but also the mechanics and soigneurs. “When he said that, I just thought it made so much sense. Because when you’re at a race, you’re in charge of everyone, riders and staff included. It can teach me to be more appreciative when I do ask someone to go above and beyond. Then I know who to buy the beer for at the end of the day.”
Van Garderen knows it will take a little time not only for him to adjust to his new role but also for the team. “I’m definitely prepared for all the jokes that are going to come from my former teammates. ‘Oh you got a clipboard now?’ I’m going to get grilled for sure,” he laughs.
Tejay is also excited to share his knowledge and talents with Team EF Coaching. Find out more here.