Photos courtesy TDSsport.com and Mario Stiehl.
schmalz Today we're here with Teejay Van Garderen, of HTC Columbia, who's just getting off a big success at the Tour of Turkey, where he took 2nd in the overall GC behind Visconti.
How did that race go? How'd you get 2nd, Teejay?
Teejay Van Garderen I don't know, I had good form, the prologue went well, got 2nd there, then on the big mountain day, followed the right moves with Moncoutié and Visconti, took 2nd to Visconti on that stage too. Actually, a lot of 2nd places...
schmalz So the string of 2nd places helped to keep you in 2nd overall.
Teejay Van Garderen Pretty much.
schmalz The Tour of Turkey, it's not forgotten in the US, but you really have to follow cycling to follow it. If it were televised or if you can get a sneaky internet feed we'd all be talking about what you did. You're the biggest prospect in the US that the fewest people know about.
Teejay Van Garderen (pause)
schmalz That's kind of hard to react to, but it seems like you're a young up and coming US racer who's had a lot of success, and I don't know why more people aren't talking about you. Maybe after Turkey you've gotten more people calling you. Is that the case?
Teejay Van Garderen I don't know, I think I've had a lot of European success, but I haven't raced very much in the States over the past few years. I was racing with the Rabobank Continental team over the last two years, the year before that I was with the US national team that did predominantly races in Europe. I've won a lot of races in Europe at the amateur level, I've been getting good results…
schmalz You won a stage of the Tour de l'Avenir, so…
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, the year before that I was second overall at l'Avenir, I won Circuito Montañes, I won Haute Anjou, if you ask anyone in the States they've never heard of any one of those races.
schmalz So do you think more people in Holland know of your success than in the US?
Teejay Van Garderen I wouldn't doubt that. For sure. Having raced for Rabobank and having my last name being Van Garderen, I think I have more Dutch fans than US fans for sure.
schmalz And you grew up in Montana, your dad's from Holland. He gave you the last name that kind of gave you an in to Rabobank. Do you think that helped you get on Rabobank?
Teejay Van Garderen Oh absolutely. That's the best development team in the world, for sure. Every team looks to that team as far as up and coming talent. There's been a lot of good guys to come out of that squad. It definitely helped getting into big races in Europe, even at the younger level. That was a huge part of my…
schmalz How was the team? Did you ever help Oscar Freire out, like help him find his shoes before a race?
Teejay Van Garderen I was on the Continental team, not the ProTour team. It's not like a stagiare thing, where you can mix it up, where you can do some races with the ProTour team, that doesn't happen…don't know…never picked up Freire's shoes.
schmalz You never had to search for…he's supposed to be really forgetful, forgets his shoes, helmets, everything before a race. I wonder if you guys had to scramble through the bus…
Teejay Van Garderen No…
schmalz How did a guy from Holland end up in Montana? How did your dad get there?
Teejay Van Garderen I think he was an exchange student in California, that's how he moved to the States. I think his mom moved to Montana, I guess he just followed her there. I don't really know the full story, that's kinda how he ended up in the US. He did go to school at MSU, that's probably another reason.
schmalz I guess Montana is now a cycling hotbed with you and Levi coming out of there.
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, there's some pretty good talent. Even Sam Schultz from mountain biking is from Montana.
schmalz How few and far between were the races? Was there a club there that you could join? Or did you have to drive 500 miles to do any racing at all?
Teejay Van Garderen It's pretty small, but there's a solid cycling community there. Everyone knows everyone by first and last name, but we'd always get a few good races out there. I'd always drive every year to go to junior nationals, drive all the way across the country to do that, but other than that there's some pretty decent racing going on. Especially with the collegiate stuff there with MSU and U of M, you get the big crop of collegiate guys. It was good.
schmalz And when you would drive to these junior things apparently you would just win all of them, you have ten national championships or something like that?
Teejay Van Garderen (chuckles) Yeah…
schmalz You're the kid that all the other kids hate!
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, probably.
schmalz So from there you went through the program in Belgium, I guess Rabobank saw you and signed you after…did you have results when you were in Belgium or was it, "We need an American, hey, he sounds like he's Dutch, let's get him!"
Teejay Van Garderen I think Noel De Jonckheere used to know Niko Verhoeven pretty well, Noel used to be the U23 coach of the national team, Niko used to be a Continental coach, he's now the ProTour director. Those two knew each other pretty well, Noel thought it would be a pretty good career move for me if I spent a couple years on that team, so he talked to them and it worked out.
schmalz And you were 19 when you joined Rabobank.
Teejay Van Garderen Correct. My racing age was 20…
schmalz So that's a bit of a culture shock, to go from Montana to Belgium to living in Holland, wasn't it?
Teejay Van Garderen It certainly wasn't easy, but it definitely helped me out in the long run.
schmalz You were able to the money, the coins with the holes in it…"this coin doesn't work, it has a hole in it"…
So you kinda broadened your horizons. When your contract was up with Rabobank, you decided to go with HTC.
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, that's pretty much how it went.
schmalz Did you have any other suitors, or was it pretty much just HTC?
Teejay Van Garderen There were a few other teams interested in me, I was on the phone a lot with a few other teams last year, but I was really attracted to HTC because you see so many young guys pop up from that squad, super successful, like Tony Martin, Boassen Hagen, the list goes on, Mark Cavendish, another young guy. So it seems like this team really knows how to develop and support young riders, give them the confidence, a good race program. You just see young talent blossom on this team, so I thought it was a good place for me to start my career.
schmalz Was there a lot of interest from other American teams? It seems you had that American synergy thing going.
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, most of the big American teams were contacting me.
schmalz And then they had the Teejay bidding war.
Teejay Van Garderen (laughs)
schmalz So can you understand Cavendish's accent? When I listen to him I can't understand him sometimes. Do you usually just get the gist?
Teejay Van Garderen I usually just ignore him when he talks. (laughs) No, he definitely is a hard guy to understand, he's funny if you really listen to him. It's kind of like that with everyone on the team. You have ten different nationalities, everyone has a different accent, different slang, weird things that they say. It's pretty funny to hear some of the people on the team. For example, the other day we all had to ride trainers inside at the hotel because it was raining, and Bert Grabsch, who's this East German, thick German accent, sees everyone riding, and he's like, "Come on, everyone needs to start sweating like a pork!"
schmalz Bert is a big, powerful guy.
Teejay Van Garderen That's guy's got some watts.
schmalz He's not the traditional cycling build, let's say. But he's still on the Tour team, he's still cranking it out, it's incredible. He actually amazes me.
Teejay Van Garderen He's a strong guy. He's perfect for a leadout train, he'll always win a couple time trials a year, the perfect teammate. He's 34, so he knows the ropes, knows the races, and he's just got unbelievable power.
schmalz And he knows when it's time to sweat like pork.
Teejay Van Garderen He knows when to sweat like a pork.
schmalz So you were with Andrei Greipel at the Tour of Turkey. You were probably involved in a few leadout trains for him.
Teejay Van Garderen I was in the front there. I wasn't one of the guys to pull the break back with 70k to go, but the last 5-10k I'd get up there and do the work.
schmalz What was that experience like? Is that a little frightening, or were you off the front soon enough so you didn't have to worry about any mayhem?
Teejay Van Garderen I think with this team, since we have the top dog sprinter and a really good leadout train, it's safer for us because no one fights Andrei for his wheel. Everyone fights for Andrei's wheel. All the fight's happening to get on our train, the fight's happening for us to start the train. I used to be really timid when it came to field sprints, I'd just stay out of the way. But being on this team, people just let us do our thing, and everyone fights with each other to get on our wheel, which makes our job a lot easier. I never really had problems getting up there and helping out. It doesn't seem like Andrei needs to fight very much to stay on our wheel, no one's fighting with him.
schmalz And then Andrei goes and wins.
Teejay Van Garderen Yep.
schmalz At Columbia you're involved in the sprinter drama, just because Mark talks.
Teejay Van Garderen (laughs)
schmalz Do you have to choose sides, or does everyone just ignore what's going on and does their job?
Teejay Van Garderen Well, those two sprinters never enter the same race together. There's always a split program. It doesn't make much sense to have those two guys in the same race, better to split them up so they can both be winning races at the same time.
schmalz And no one's feelings get hurt, if they don't race in the same race.
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, but it's…um…I don't know…I read the articles online, I don't know how much of it was dramatized. I think there's room for both those guys on the team. There just needs to be some compromise…
schmalz They're both prolific winners.
Teejay Van Garderen They're the two fastest in the world for sure.
schmalz And to be honest, Andrei's got more wins than Mark does this year. Mark had his tooth problems, he's been waylaid by that, right now you might not be the fastest in the world, Mark, it might be your teammate. These things ebb and flow.
Teejay Van Garderen I think just going to the media to discuss the problem, they really should just communicate better within the team and each other and be honest with themselves and the team as to how they're going, how they're feeling, what they want to do. I think if that happens for sure there's room for both of them on the team, they can both be successful and winning 50 billion races a year. But you gotta…
schmalz I'll take you off the hook and we'll talk about something else now other than the sprinter drama. You've got Liege coming up, right?
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah I do.
schmalz Is this your first time there?
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, it'll be my first.
schmalz Have you done any of the other Classis?
Teejay Van Garderen I raced Het Volk earlier in the year.
schmalz You must be excited.
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, it'll be a big one. Even if I can just finish that'll be a success.
schmalz How do you do in the hills? Is it "Oh god I just have to survive this" or you can get into a mindset where you can be more aggressive?
Teejay Van Garderen I'm more of a sustained endurance climber, not a punchy sort of Classics climber. So I don't know, I don't think it's a matter of whether or not I'm a climber, it's a matter of whether or not I have the endurance to go 260k. I've never done a race of distance before, so we'll see how I go. If I finish it as a 21 year old, that's not so bad for a first go at it.
schmalz Absolutely. It's gotta be exciting. These are the races that you hear about when you're growing up, reading magazines. "Wow, I get to start, I get to sign in and do it!"
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah.
schmalz Not a bad perk I assume.
Teejay Van Garderen For sure.
schmalz You started racing relatively early. Your dad, being from Holland, probably knew of bike racing, if he didn't race as an amateur himself. It probably wasn't such a big decision for you to go into cycling, as it might've been for someone from an American family. Was it easier because your dad was from Holland?
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, my dad's been an active cyclist, and still is, for a long time. It's sorta what got me into it. He was never a professional or anything, but he was always a club rider, a cat 2, we'd go on rides together. It was fun, it's how I got started out.
schmalz When did your talent manifest itself? How did that start?
Teejay Van Garderen I don't know, it was all so long ago.
schmalz Did you win your first race?
Teejay Van Garderen No, Montana's a tough place to start out as a ten year old kid on a bike, 'cause there's no other little kids out riding. So I was racing against all the adults, I was just getting dropped all the time. But since I was the only one people thought it was really interesting and gave me a lot of support. Local framebuilders, Strong Frames, would sponsor me with a bike. Tons of people would help me out 'cause they thought it was really cool to see this little kid on a bike.
schmalz You were the mascot for the Montana area?
Teejay Van Garderen I guess.
schmalz You're touted as a stage racer. Is that something that's been thrusted upon you, or is that a goal of yours?
Teejay Van Garderen I just think that's what I'm best at. I'm pretty good at time trials, I'm pretty good at climbing, but I think my biggest strength is day to day recovery. Normally I get stronger in a stage racer rather than weaker. I've never been that strong at one day races. I go to the World Championships, after having a bunch of good results in time trials throughout the year. Normally at the World Championships I suck.
schmalz How do you know that you're recovering?
Teejay Van Garderen I don't know, if I see other people hurting the first day or if I'm hurting the first day and other people are doing well and I'm having an easy day the next day and other people are suffering then you know that maybe, I'm recovering better...
schmalz It's basically, "I feel good."?
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, pretty much.
schmalz You're a tall skinny guy, right? Well, what they say on the HTC site is that you are 6'1" and 140 pounds...
Teejay Van Garderen No, I'm more than 140, I'm like 155.
schmalz OK, good, because I was going to FedEx you a sandwich if that was your actual weight; because that's Schleck territory. So, what kind of wattages do you put out? People love to hear what professional rider put out as far as wattages go, is that super-secret stuff? Do you never mention what you do? Or do you just kind of say "Eh, here's what I do, here's what it is."
Teejay Van Garderen I don't know if it's super secret, it's just, I'm not very good at riding with an SRM. My coach gets pissed at me all the time, so if you wanted to know my wattages, you probably should ask my team because I have no idea.
schmalz They're just streamed directly to HTC and you don't even know what's going on?
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, I just send in my stuff and let them deal with it, and I don't really want to know or care, or let all that stuff get in my head.
schmalz Right, some racers have a fixation with their numbers and others just seem to go by feel, it seems like you're probably in the realm of "going by feel"?
Teejay Van Garderen Yeah, for sure.
schmalz How much development did you do on your time trial position? A lot, a little?
Teejay Van Garderen I've been to the wind tunnel once. And I try to get on my bike every now and again to dial my TT position, but I wouldn't say that I've been like Levi, who has his position completely dialed and has been working on it for years
schmalz Yeah, he moves his fingers around and sometimes puts one arm behind his back. So, you're hoping to get on the Vuelta team, is that one of your stage racing goals for the year?
Teejay Van Garderen That would be a big goal of mine, hopefully that works out.
schmalz It seems like the Tour of Turkey has helped you out quite a bit.
Teejay Van Garderen I hope so, I hope that's what the team thinks.
schmalz And if there's not any huge, Icelandic volcanoes going off, I think you will be able to actually get there too.
Teejay Van Garderen (laughs) Hopefully.
schmalz Did you have any extra days in Turkey because of the volcano?
Teejay Van Garderen A lot of my teammates did. All my teammates from Belgium and Germany—only two people were actually able to go home from Turkey—that was me and Mark Renshaw. And I actually had to take a taxi from Rome to Lucca. It cost me... It cost me a bit of money.
schmalz What did the taxi driver say? Did he say, "Really, Lucca?"
Teejay Van Garderen I had to work pretty hard to persuade him to take me.
schmalz How's your Italian, were you able to convince him in a literate way? Or did you just point to a map and made him think you were nuts?
Teejay Van Garderen (laughs) My Italian's horrible, I haven't really started to learn yet. I've been so busy with other stuff that it hasn't been the biggest concern.
schmalz It seems like this season's been right on track, and I think that this time next year; you're going to be known much more—and popular...
Teejay Van Garderen (laughs) I hope so, maybe the Tour of California will do things for me.
schmalz The Tour of California will help, and going to the Vuelta will help, and maybe this time next year you won't even be answering our calls, as that will be the level of fame you will be at. You will be able to lose my number, so that's something to aspire to, and best of luck.
Teejay Van Garderen (laughs) Thanks a lot.